Symbol image files © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
Colorado Catholic bishops want lessons from U.S. state's abuse report. Victims say investigation does not go far enough. Further investigations could be the result.
Father Harold Robert White gave his victims alcohol or took them on outings. Then he abused them and told them to keep quiet. Whenever a number of minors were affected in a parish and the scandal threatened to blow up, the Archdiocese of Denver transferred him to another parish where no one knew him – for 21 years. Before the priest, who died in 2006, was removed from office in 1993, he had apparently abused at least 63 children.
The White case is the most dramatic example in the investigative report into church abuse in the U.S. state of Colorado commissioned by Attorney General Phil Weiser. The church cooperated with the authorities. Based on material from the three dioceses of Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, former federal prosecutor Bob Troyer had compiled a report over eight months whose shocking findings met with a mixed response.
Abuse allegations against priests still alive?
The best news from the Catholic Church's perspective is the finding that there are currently no known allegations of abuse against priests still living in the dioceses in question. But then already comes a limitation. "We don't know of any cases, but we also know that we can't be sure that there aren't any."
By contrast, investigators can say with certainty that at least 166 children were sexually abused by 43 priests over the past 70 years in Colorado's three dioceses. Attorney General Weiser called the findings of the 263-page investigative report "inconceivable" at a press conference Wednesday. Particularly painful, he said, is that numerous victims of abuse have come forward with their stories without being offered help.
Culture of obfuscation
According to the report, the most recent victim was a five-year-old girl who had been abused by a priest. One boy was "ritualized" raped 50 times. Two victims later took their own lives. The report's shockingly intimate details raise questions about why it took an average of 19.5 years before a diocese took action against those accused of abuse.
In at least one hundred cases since 1950, the church could have filed a police report, but actually did so in fewer than ten. Instead, the dioceses have cultivated a culture of cover-up, he said. Internally, officials downplayed what happened and funneled suspected abusive priests through parishes.
'Thorough and transparent'
Colorado's Catholic bishops have now apologized for the church's failure and praised the report as "thorough and transparent". He will "make the findings public and accept the recommendations," promised Denver Archbishop Samuel Joseph Aquila.
Pueblo Bishop Stephen Berg apologized "for the pain the abuse caused and for every instance in which church leaders failed to prevent it". Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan expressed confidence that the church would adopt the report's suggestions to better protect minors from abuse in the future.
Extent of abuse
The victim support organization SNAP ("Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests") questioned the number of victims and perpetrators identified. Executive Director Zach Hiner said the extent of abuse could be greater than reported in the report because the church had named just ten perpetrators since 1950. "I welcome that the attorney general has left the door open for a true grand jury investigation," Hiner said.
As of August 2018, the investigation in six Pennsylvania dioceses had identified about 1.000 abuse victims and 300 priests identified as perpetrators. Since the first revelations of the abuse crisis in Boston in 2002, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has paid three billion dollars in compensation.