Former Montrose Priest Among Those Named in Special Report Highlighting Child Sex Abuse
By Katharhynn Heidelberg
October 24, 2019
|Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks to reporters on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, about a report on priest abuse in Colorado. |
An independent review of Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses’ handling of sexual abuse complaints lists allegations against Western Slope priests, including one who served in Montrose.
The review’s results and recommendations were released Wednesday as a “Special Master’s Report” undertaken by Robert Troyer, a retired U.S. Attorney, as part of an agreement between Colorado’s dioceses and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
The report says Gary Kennedy, a former Montrose priest who retired in 2011, was reported last month for alleged sexual abuse said to have occurred between 1967 and 1969, against a boy who was 13 - 15 at the time.
Troyer’s report says Kennedy, who served St. Mary Parish as assistant pastor during the period of alleged abuse, would take a group of altar boys to the church basement where he had set up a mattress behind a curtain and there, would take turns “wrestling” with each boy. The man who came forward in 2019 alleged Kennedy would grab him and grind his genitals against him.
The Archdiocese of Denver was unable to comment on specific cases, its spokesman said Wednesday, after the report was released. The Montrose Daily Press could not immediately locate contact information for Kennedy.
“We must face the past and learn from it, and we must know if our children are safe today,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in a letter and video statement released after the report. “Thanks to our ongoing vigilance, they are.” In his statement, the archbishop commended the survivors for their courage and recognized that more survivors might now step forward; Aquila pledged an open-door policy.
“As we all read about the abuse of the past, it is easy to become angry at the abusers and those who protected them, and deeply saddened at the damage these perpetrators inflicted on children,” the archbishop said.
Troyer’s report states Kennedy’s health precluded him from being asked about the allegation. “We are aware of no exculpatory evidence,” Troyer wrote.
At the time the man came forward to allege having been abused as a child, Kennedy was in ministry at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Pueblo, where he assisted with Mass and other duties, as needed.
Upon learning of the allegation, the Pueblo Diocese removed Kennedy from work and began an internal investigation, which is ongoing.
Troyer found the Pueblo Diocese reported the man’s allegation to police immediately, launched an investigation and removed Kennedy during the pendency of the investigation. Kennedy’s file did not indicate the diocese had received any prior reports of sexual misconduct with children before he’s said to have abused the then-teen.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Seth Ryan, the sex crimes prosecutor for the 7th Judicial District, said that to his knowledge, law enforcement has not yet submitted a report to the District Attorney’s Office regarding the allegations.
Ryan said he is not certain whether charges could be filed, because of statutes of limitation.
“It’s a complicated calculation when it’s old like that. That would probably require extensive legal research about what statute of limitation applies to something like that,” Ryan said. “The laws have changed quite a bit since 1966 and 1967.”
Prosecutors would first have to receive a case then determine what statute of limitation, if any, applies, he said.
Troyer during his investigation did not refer any allegations to a prosecutor, finding that only one is arguably still viable under the statute of limitations and has already been reported to authorities. Further, three of the allegations contained in Troyer’s report came initially from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
Other Pueblo Diocese priests listed in the report served in Grand Junction, Alamosa, La Junta, Monte Vista, Trinidad, Avondale and Lamar.
A few other priests who served in the Pueblo Diocese were listed by initial for having allegedly abused children out of state.
Troyer’s report overall looked at conduct over a period of 70 years and indicated 166 children were sexually abused by 43 priests in Colorado’s three dioceses: The Archdiocese of Denver, and the Dioceses of Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Many parishes on the Western Slope are part of the Diocese of Pueblo.
For the report, Troyer received access to decades of diocesan files concerning child sex abuse and had the opportunity to interview involved parties and witnesses.
His report delved into “substantiated incidents” of sexual abuse of children by ordained Roman Catholic priests and documents the dioceses’ responses or lack thereof. The report also evaluates their current practices for preventing and responding to abuse.
Most victims were boys; regardless of sex, most victims were between 10 and 14 when they were abused, Troyer’s report states. Two-thirds of the abuse occurred between the 1960s and 1970s.
The most recent clergy child sex abuse incident occurred decades ago, with the most recent child sexual misconduct incident in 2011; the report says more and more victims are coming forward and the report rate this year is higher than it has been in the past 14 years.
The report notes a lag of about 19.5 years, average, before a diocese “concretely restricted an abusive priest’s authority” after receiving an allegation — a figure that does not include seven alleged abusers, now deceased, on whom no restrictions were placed, Troyer said in the document.
But from available data, it appears that in the last decade, the dioceses suspended the powers of accused priests, pending investigation.
“Arguably, the most urgent question asked of our work is this: Are there Colorado priests currently in ministry who have been credibly accused of abusing children?” Troyer wrote.
Troyer also wrote that, although there are no active clergy named in the accusations, “those records are not reliable proof of the absence of active abuse,” further writing that flaws in records and practices by the dioceses “make it impossible to honestly and reliably conclude” no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in the state since 1998.
“Despicable things happened in our parishes and at the time there were incredible failures to properly address them,” spokesman Mark Haas said in an email.
“The Archdiocese of Denver in 2019 is much different than it was decades ago. We have taken huge steps to address this issue and the report documents the dramatic decrease in known substantiated allegations. We make no claim that the problem is forever solved, but rather are reminded today that we must remain vigilant to ensure our parishes and schools remain safe.”
There are 300 current priests, none of whom is named in the report, he noted. “It seems at times that they are held to the standard of ‘guilty until proven innocent,’ which is an impossible standard to prove,” Haas said.
Robert Troyer and his team were allowed information from diocesan files under the terms of a comprehensive agreement between the dioceses and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The team was able to review files of each priest who was in ministry in the state at any time since Jan. 1, 1950, as well as information such as audits, policies, and review board materials from the dioceses.
The 200-plus page report is available at https://tinyurl.com/colodiocese.
It assessed: quality and effectiveness of policies designed to protect children and report abuse to law enforcement; whether a diocese has, over time, complied with the law requiring child sexual abuse to be reported; all substantiated incidents of sexual abuse by priests of children (meaning the investigation shows it is more likely than not the abuse occurred); all substantiated incidents of priests grooming children for abuse or engaging in conduct raising reasonable concerns of it (these priests are not named); and a quantitative summary of unsubstantiated allegations.
The dioceses determined which files contained allegations of child sexual abuse; Troyer’s team was not involved in that selection.
To this day, priests’ records are kept on paper; the thoroughness of records kept varies by diocese and is not consistent over time because of the different people who were responsible for those records and the way they were directed to keep them.
Troyer said it was “clear” from the review that, especially before the 1990s, Colorado dioceses “often intentionally” obscured child sex abuse allegations; did not document them, or purged them.
The documentation has since improved, by varying degrees, he said.
“Nonetheless, our review confirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s long history of silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism.”
The report calls such descriptions less than honest, intentionally obstructive and a hindrance to fact-finding.
“It also appears from our review that church personnel in Colorado generally stopped deploying these euphemisms 15 to 20 years ago.” The report also states there was no indication the dioceses withheld information from Troyer and his team. They were even able to review formerly “secret” files known as the “canon 489 files.”
Another limitation of the files reviewed was that they do not contain information relevant to any sexual abuse in instances when a lawsuit has been filed and all of the victim’s reporting was done in the context of such litigation.
The record is “flush with examples” of dioceses transferring accused abusers just ahead of incidents that would produce abuse reports and documentation; in Colorado, this occurred as recently as 1998, Troyer found.
“This practice reduced abuse reports and therefore made the priest files a less than perfect source for those trying to understand and report on such priests’ full histories of child sex abuse.”
Such lack of evidence does not mean there ever was any such evidence to begin with, but, Troyer said, “we are also aware from our own investigation that clergy child sex abuse occurred that was never recorded in the abusers’ files.”
The report notes diocesan personnel with whom investigators interacted were committed to “the healing power of our review and assessment.”
The report recommends all three dioceses develop an independent, expert investigative body to handle allegations; implement comprehensive electronic record-keeping and tracking system for a uniform way to document and manage abuse allegations; dedicate a victim assistance coordinator with the sole mission of victim care; increase training to instill a culture of “see something, say something” and to improve reporting to law enforcement; and bring in a qualified, independent party to regularly evaluate dioceses’ investigation and protection systems.
“It is our deep and sincere hope that this report helps them and others continue to clear that healing path and encourages more victims to report and seek help,” Troyer said.
The report “strongly” urges diocese personnel to commit to the recommendations: “Given what is at risk, with comparatively little effort and expense, the current systems’ flaws can be remedied so that fewer (or even no) children suffer in the future.”
Archbishop Samuel Aquila said he is committed to ensuring past abuses do not continue. “Mr. Troyer identified no diocesan priests in active ministry in the archdiocese with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor,” the archbishop said in a statement, adding that the most recent substantiated report of that nature had not occurred within the past 20 years.
“Now we must learn from the suffering of the victims and never assume that we could not face another perpetrator in our midst,” he said.
More information about how the Colorado dioceses are handling abuse allegations and assisting victims can be found at healing.dioceseofpueblo.org. The archdiocese has also released a detailed FAQ at https://archden.org.promise.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.