Further investigation into Colorado Catholic Church IDs 46 more victims, 9 more abusive priests — including Denver’s Father Woody
By Elise Schmelzer
December 1, 2020
|From left, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, the Very Rev. Randy Dollins and Archbishop Samuel Aquila during a press conference to announce a new investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. Weiser and the Catholic Dioceses of Colorado announced a joint initiative to give support to survivors of sexual abuse in the church.|
New report brings total number of known abusive priests in Colorado to 52, number of child victims to 212
Father James Moreno sexually assaulted a teenage boy dozens of times over two years after they met at a Denver Catholic school — including in the rectory of the city’s most prominent church.
Moreno assaulted the boy more than 60 times between 1978 and 1980. He groomed him, gave him alcohol and marijuana, and raped him, according to a report released Tuesday by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
The abuse happened all over Denver: in the rooms of St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary High School, in Moreno’s car, in the boy’s home, in the rectory of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the heart of Denver, one block from the state Capitol.
The teen, now grown, reported the abuse to authorities last year after the publication of a state-led investigation into child sex abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests in Colorado. Additional investigation into Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses found nine more priests who sexually abused children, including Moreno and a Denver priest and advocate for the poor known as Father Woody, along with 46 more victims of abusive priests — ending a nearly two-year investigation into the dioceses by state authorities.
The new incidences of abuse included in a supplemental report released Tuesday bring the total number of known abusive priests in Colorado to 52 and the total number of children they abused to 212, according to the independent investigator hired by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the diocese. The investigator, former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, released his initial findings in October 2019 but continued to investigate as more survivors came forward after the publication of his first report.
“The work we have to do is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said Tuesday during a news conference, noting he didn’t expect to issue any more reports.
More than half of the 212 children were abused after church leaders knew of allegations that the priest abused children, according to the report. Several of the children were younger than 10 years old when a priest began to abuse them.
“Specifically, these incidents provide further evidence that historically the dioceses enabled clergy child sexual abuse by transferring abusive priests to new parishes; taking no action to restrict their ministry or access to children; concealing the priests’ behavior with secrecy, euphemism and lack of documentation; silencing victims; and not reporting the abuse to law enforcement,” Troyer wrote in the supplemental report released Tuesday.
Newly identified priests
Five of the priests named for the first time Tuesday worked in the Denver Archdiocese: Moreno, Kenneth Funk, Daniel Kelleher, Gregory Smith and Charles Woodrich, who was well known in Denver for serving the poor — he handed out $10 bills around Christmas — and helped found the Samaritan House homeless shelter.
Three survivors came forward and said that Woodrich, known as Father Woody, groomed them and assaulted them in the late 1970s and the 1980s. One boy was 12 years old when the abuse began and said Woodrich assaulted him at least once a month for six years while Woodrich was pastor at Holy Ghost Parish in Denver, according to the report. Woodrich died in 1991.
The other four priests named in the supplemental report worked in the Pueblo diocese: Marvin Kapushion, Duane Repola, Carlos Trujillo and Joseph Walsh. Both Kapushion and Walsh abused children living at the Sacred Heart Orphanage while working as counselors to the children there. Walsh’s two known victims were 4 and 7 years old when he started abusing them, according to the report.
At least six of the nine newly-identified abusive priests have died. Moreno, who is alive, admitted he abused the teen when confronted in late 2019, according to the report. He retired from the Denver archdiocese 16 years ago and remains ordained, though church officials are working to formally remove him from the priesthood.
All of the instances of abuse Troyer found happened between 1951 and 1999. The majority happened during the 1960s.
“We also hope that this process has demonstrated our commitment to continuing to enhance and strengthen our child-protection policies so that the sins of the past do not repeat themselves,” the dioceses’ three bishops said Tuesday in a joint statement. “We are grateful for the work completed by the Special Master to thoroughly analyze our protocols and make sure they meet the highest of standards for any youth-serving institution.”
In his supplemental report, Troyer commended the dioceses for implementing all of the systemic changes he recommended in the 2019 report. Each diocese has created independent investigation systems, suspended any priest accused of child sexual misconduct, hired victim-assistance coordinators, improved record keeping and improved communications that encourage people to report abuse to law enforcement. Each diocese also agreed to regular audits of their child protection systems by a third party.
“These important improvements appear to be sound,” Troyer wrote. “At this point, though, they are largely untested.”
There is no enforcement mechanism to make sure the dioceses continue to use the new systems, though Weiser said the dioceses’ public promises to do so and that failing to meet those promises would further hurt the church’s credibility.
“Heartbroken by the pain they have endured”
The Colorado investigation followed similar reports in other states, though the scope of the investigation here was more limited than elsewhere. The Colorado attorney general does not have the power to convene a grand jury to investigate priest abuse, which means the office had to negotiate with the dioceses for access.
Troyer did not have the power to subpoena records or compel testimony and instead relied on documents provided to him by the dioceses, which agreed to give him complete access. The review also did not include allegations of priests abusing adults or priests who work for a religious order instead of a diocese.
“I’m not going to say this a perfect approach… but we believe it is an effective one,” Weiser said.
The supplemental report released Tuesday included people who came forward to the attorney general’s office and the reparations program, but not those who only reported to the dioceses.
Troyer’s investigation did not find any substantiated allegations of abuse after 1999, but he wrote in his October 2019 report that the dioceses’ poor records and flawed practices made it impossible to know whether there had been no abuse in the past two decades.
Dozens of those harmed by abusive priests have received money from the dioceses through an independent claims process. As of Oct. 16, more than $6.6 million had been paid to 73 abuse survivors. The claims process was designed to allow survivors to seek reparations without worrying about statutes of limitation or a public and combative court process.
“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 bishops said in their statement. “We remain heartbroken by the pain they have endured, we again offer our deepest apologies for the past failures of the Church, and we promise that we will always pray for continued healing for them and their families.”