|Investigation Clears Denver Metro-area Priest of Decades-old Abuse Allegation
By John Ingold and Joey Bunch
January 3, 2011
A metro-area Catholic priest who was removed from duty last year following an allegation of sexual abuse has been cleared and restored to priestly service.
In a statement Sunday, the Archdiocese of Denver said a special church panel that investigates abuse allegations looked into the accusation against the Rev. Mel Thompson and concluded "that the allegation against Father Thompson is not supported by the evidence they reviewed."
The panel reached that conclusion after interviewing a number of people involved in the case and "others who might have helpful information."
The church also notified Denver police, though officials there said they did not pursue the investigation because the statute of limitations had lapsed.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput explained the church panel's decision in a letter read aloud Sunday at the parishes in the metro area where Thompson served, including Lakewood's Our Lady of Fatima and Centennial's St. Thom as More, where Thompson was most recently posted.
"Any allegation of this nature creates immense pain both for the accuser and the accused," Chaput wrote in the letter. "I'm grateful to all for their patience throughout this very demanding process."
When the letter was read during one Mass on Sunday at St. Thomas More, the congregation burst into applause, said church pastoral council member Joanne Horne.
"It was a complete injustice as far as I'm concerned," she said of Thompson's suspension, "and I'm glad it's been rectified. . . . He's beloved here."
Meanwhile, Jeb Barrett, the head of Denver's chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was outraged by the church's decision but not surprised. Barrett said the investigation has little credibility because it was conducted by people connected to the church. He said the church should allow an independent group to investigate such cases.
"They have lied to us for so many years about priest sexuality and sexual activity, and why should we believe them now?" Barrett said.
Efforts on Sunday to reach Thompson, 75, were unsuccessful.
In April, an allegation surfaced that Thompson had abused a young boy in the early 1970s. Church officials, citing concerns for the accuser's privacy, have declined to provide more specific details about the allegation. Thomp son served at two Denver parishes in the early 1970s.
The day after hearing of the allegation, the church removed Thompson from service at St. Thomas More, where he was the assistant pastor for nine years and was known for his sense of humor and love of Irish heritage. Throughout, Thompson maintained his innocence.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Jean ette DeMelo said the church, following its policies when there is an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, referred the investigation to the Archdiocesan Conduct Response Team. The team is made up of lay people and a church official.
DeMelo said the team unanimously concluded that Thompson should be reinstated to active ministry. DeMelo said Thompson then asked to retire, which Chaput granted.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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