52 Catholic Priests in Colorado, Including Iconic Father Woody, Abused 212 Victims, Further Investigation Finds
By Jesse Paul and Jennifer Brown
December 1, 2020
Investigators digging into child sex abuse in Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses have identified an additional 46 victims dating back to 1950 and nine more abusive priests, including an iconic Denver advocate for the homeless and poor.
The new revelations were released Tuesday by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office in a 93-page supplemental report that marks the end of a 22-month investigation into the church covering the past seven decades.
The latest report includes allegations that a chaplain sexually abused children living in a Pueblo orphanage in the 1950s, and that a Denver priest whipped a child and fondled him during an estimated 1,000 instances of abuse over five years in the 1970s.
It also names Charles Woodrich, better known as Father Woody, a revered priest who founded a homeless shelter and was called Denver’s “patron saint of the poor.” Father Woody established Haven of Hope, where people who are homeless can go for hot meals and showers, and founded the Samaritan House, a homeless shelter in downtown Denver. He died in 1991.
An independent team led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer discovered a total of 52 priests who were credibly accused of abuse — some of whom are still alive — and 212 victims. It’s a staggering toll that authorities have conceded may still not account for the true depth of the scandal. The review and a subsequent claims process that paid 77 victims more than $7.3 million resulted from an agreement between the state’s three Catholic dioceses and the attorney general’s office.
The review was not a criminal investigation and did not involve a grand jury, which is what led to a 2018 report in Pennsylvania that listed 301 abusive priests and prompted the discussions that led to Colorado’s review. The vast majority of the abuse cases in Colorado would likely not be criminally prosecutable anyway because the state used to have a statute of limitations for child sex assault — it was eliminated in 2006 — that still applies to past cases.
“From the time we announced this program in February 2019, our goals were to support and comfort survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and to bring meaningful change to how the Colorado dioceses protect children from sexual abuse,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a written statement. “I recognize there isn’t one program or dollar amount that can make up for the trauma that many have been through in their lives, but my sincerest hope is that this unique Colorado program has allowed survivors of sexual abuse by a priest to take one more step on the path to healing and recovery.”
Of the newly identified abusive priests, five served in the Denver Archdiocese and four served in the Pueblo Diocese. There were no additional reports of sexual abuse by priests serving in Colorado Springs, Colorado’s third diocese.
The supplemental report includes new allegations against 16 priests who were previously identified in the state’s first report on child sex abuse in the Catholic church, which was released in October 2019. One of those priests is the late Lawrence St. Peter, whose abuse of one boy was chronicled in an in-depth story by The Colorado Sun earlier this year.
“He’s ruining people’s lives even after he’s dead,” the victim, Neil Elms, told The Sun in January, “and that sucks that he still has that much … control.”
Both the original and supplemental reports paint a clear picture that in many cases — including St. Peter’s — the church knew or suspected a priest was abusive and yet still allowed him to continue his clergy work and, thus, to abuse.
|A photograph of Monsignor Lawrence St. Peter. (Joe Amon, Special to The Colorado Sun)|
The independent investigation found that 113 of the 212 child victims were sexually abused by 14 priests after the church had been warned about their behavior. Of the 46 victims newly identified in the supplemental report, 16 were abused after the church knew the priest who abused them had abused others.
While the church has touted its efforts to prevent and identify abusive priests in recent years, and it points out that no abuse has been identified in the past two decades, the independent investigation noted recent delays in reporting criminal behavior to law enforcement as is required by law.
In the case of Monsignor Marvin Kapushion of the Pueblo Diocese, his one identified victim reported in February of this year that he had been abused as a teenager at Sacred Heart Orphanage in Pueblo in 1984.
“Kapushion died on April 7, 2020,” the supplemental report said. “The Pueblo Diocese did not report Victim #1’s allegation to law enforcement until April 20, 2020. In other words, Kapushion was alive when Victim #1 reported his abuse, but the Pueblo Diocese waited until two weeks after his death to report him to the police.”
Kapushion for three decades was director of Catholic Charities and helped found the Community Organization Program for young people of color.
Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of the Denver Archdiocese, as well as Bishop Stephen Berg of the Pueblo Diocese and Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Colorado Springs Diocese, released a joint statement saying they are committed to protecting children moving forward.
“We hope and pray that this independent review and reparations process over the last two years has provided a measure of justice and healing for the survivors who came forward and shared their stories,” the statement said. “We remain heartbroken by the pain they have endured and we again offer our deepest apologies for the past failures of the Church.”
Newly named priests include Pueblo orphanage chaplain
Of the nine priests newly identified in the supplemental report, seven are each accused of abusing a single victim. Two — Father Woodrich of the Denver diocese and Father Joseph Walsh in Pueblo — had multiple victims, according to the report.
Walsh was accused of abusing two children who lived at Sacred Heart Orphanage in Pueblo in the 1950s.
Walsh lured one child with trips to an ice cream parlor, putting the boy on his lap and fondling his penis as they drove in Walsh’s car, and asking the boy to touch his penis. The abuse began when the boy was about 4 years old and continued until he was 8, not only in Walsh’s vehicle but numerous times in the rectory, investigators found.
The victim first reported the abuse to the Pueblo bishop in 1969, and then reported it again in 1981 to the next Pueblo bishop. “Neither restricted his ministry,” the report said. “Neither restricted his access to children. Neither removed him from ministry. Neither restricted his authority in any way.”
The victim told investigators that the second bishop informed him that “he would not be believed” and that his allegation “would really hurt the church if it became public.”
A second victim said Walsh abused her the entire six years she lived at the orphanage. Walsh enticed her onto his lap with candy, then put his hands under her dress and digitally penetrated her. “Walsh repeated this abuse for years despite her attempts to hide from him,” the report said.
It began when she was 7 years old and continued until she was 13, she said.
The victim, now in her 70s, first reported the abuse a year ago, after the special commission was announced by the attorney general. Walsh had already died.
Woodrich, who was pastor at Holy Ghost Parish in Denver, is accused in the report of sexually abusing three teenage boys in the 1970s and 1980s after inviting them to his home and plying them with alcohol.
In one case, Woodrich befriended the boy’s family and invited him to do chores around the parish and Woodrich’s house, where he offered him alcohol, the report said. The victim, who said he was abused once or twice per month for about six years, said he and Woodrich exchanged oral sex and that the pastor once attempted to have anal sex with him. The abuse began in 1983 when the victim was 12.
A second victim shared a similar story with investigators. Woodrich befriended his family, mentioned him in sermons and tried to bond with him over sports and photography, the report said. Woodrich invited the 15-year-old to his home and offered to let him borrow an expensive camera, then asked him to take off his clothes and pose for photos. The teen spent the night and woke up in only his underwear, he told investigators.
A third victim also said Woodrich invited him to dinner and his house and gave him alcohol. The boy — 15 or 16 at the time — drank so much that he vomited, and then Woodrich took him out for dinner and gave him more alcohol, the report said. The victim said he woke up the next morning in Woodrich’s bedroom, wearing only his underwear.
All three victims first reported their abuse in the last year. Woodrich had already died.
|The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, photographed on Feb. 19, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)|
In another egregious case in the Denver diocese, Monsignor Gregory Smith abused one boy about 1,000 times — on a weekly basis from the time was 9 until he was 14, according to the report.
Smith began by whipping the boy while he was naked, then progressed to fondling his penis from behind, investigators said. He abused the child at St. Francis de Sales Church, including in the confessional, from 1971-76.
The priest’s file contained no reports of abuse. The victim reported it to the investigative team in 2019, after Smith had died.
Church changed policies after initial report
The independent investigation team’s initial report last year included several recommendations to make sure that any future reports of abuse were not covered up to protect the church.
Investigators said the Denver Archdiocese, for example, should immediately report child sex abuse to law enforcement, offer “healing assistance” to victims and immediately remove anyonefrom ministry.
This week’s follow-up report said all three dioceses have enacted “meaningful changes” in the past year, including by creating independent investigation systems. All three improved records-management systems to better communicate with law enforcement, as well as encouraged victims to come forward. Also, each diocese committed to regular third-party audits of their child-protection systems, the team wrote.
“These important improvements appear to be sound,” the supplemental report said. “At this point, though, they are largely untested.”
The investigative team spent 22 months interviewing hundreds of victims and church officials and poring through diocese files. The group worked to “provide an accurate reckoning with the past and to recommend meaningful protections for the future,” they wrote in the report.
However, the investigation did not chronicle abuse committed by religious-order priests in Colorado or by priests before they were ordained. Sexual misconduct against adult victims was also not part of the investigation.
“I recognize that these improvements are not yet tested and it’s going to be up to the church to ensure that the environment and the culture is one that going forward makes life as safe as possible for children,” Weiser said during a news conference on Tuesday.
Former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who left office in January 2019 and under whom discussions about the investigation began, initially preferred a criminal investigation of the church.
But under the current attorney general, the state finalized an agreement with the church that allowed the independent investigative team to review diocese files.
Weiser said his office looked for the option to prosecute priests accused in the independent investigators’ report, but for all of the cases the statute of limitations had expired or the alleged abuser had died.
Weiser said his office will continue to field abuse allegations and weigh whether a prosecution is possible. However, he said, there will not be a new report issued or amendments to the existing reports made.
|Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks to reporters on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, about a report on priest abuse in Colorado. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)|
The attorney general also said he is not seeking additional power from the legislature or governor to open a criminal investigation into child sex abuse in Colorado’s Catholic dioceses, citing, in part, budget restraints because of the coronavirus crisis.
“For us, what authorities we have is also related to personnel and the capabilities we have,” he said.
Since it was announced a year ago, Colorado’s priest abuse reparations program, which was formed alongside the independent investigation, has paid $7.31 million to 77 survivors of sexual abuse, according to a Tuesday update released by the program. The victims who received payouts were abused by 30 priests — all of whom are now dead or no longer in ministry — between 1950 and 1999.
The program fielded claims from survivors to determine their credibility and how much money they were owed by the church. The church was responsible for paying the sum.