Surprising Secrecy in the Denver Archdiocese

| May 6, 2022 | Catholic Church

Secrecy in the Denver Archdiocese? We at Horowitz Law hope we’re misreading the news out of the Denver Archdiocese, but we suspect and fear that we aren’t. A Colorado television station reported that a Denver archdiocesan priest had been accused of inappropriately touching a child in 2018. More specifically, a media report states that a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver inappropriately touched a minor in a public space when the young girl was exiting church immediately after Mass. Denver church officials supposedly followed their “Code of Conduct” and “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” by immediately reporting the allegation to authorities (or so they say). The cleric was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. So far, this sounds like they are actually following the correct protocol, right? Well, not really.

Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila is NOT revealing the name of the priest. At a bare minimum, this contradicts the promise and practice of Catholic officials across the country for a few decades.

Let’s start by noting the following facts:
1. This is an allegation of a serious crime
2. This allegedly happened recently
3. The alleged abuser is a still-living priest
4. This act is a possible cause for criminal prosecution

In other words, it’s NOT a decades-old allegation against a long-deceased cleric who can no longer hurt someone or be pursued by police and prosecutors. This priest is still alive and could still be abusive.

So, while a bishop should be prompt, honest, and thorough in publicly disclosing ALL reports of abuse, he should be particularly prompt, honest, and thorough in these circumstances. But again, we at Horowitz Law can find nothing on Aquila’s website indicating the name of the just-suspended cleric. Secrecy in the Denver Archdiocese? We think so.

What the Archdiocese of Denver DOES disclose is:
1. When it allegedly happened (in 2018, after Mass)
2. How often it allegedly happened (once)
3. What the incident involved (touching)
4. Where the incident happened (in a public space)

Clearly, the archdiocese does not take the position, “It’s just an accusation, so we can’t offer any details.” Instead, it takes the position, “The ONLY details we’ll offer are the ones that portray us in the best possible light.” Why aren’t they disclosing the priest’s name?

This just feels wrong to us, like there is secrecy in the Denver Archdiocese. It also contradicts the Catholic Church’s 20-year-old national abuse policy that supposedly mandates ‘openness’ in abuse cases. In fairness, let us admit that maybe we’re not seeing the whole picture here. Perhaps Aquila DID reveal the accused priest’s name, but local media is withholding it. But while sometimes one or two media outlets might act so cautiously, rarely, every news outlet in a relatively large metro area like Denver refuses to name an alleged offender.

A second possibility is that maybe Aquila has told his parishioners, but not the press, who this accused cleric is. That, too, sometimes happens, but it’s rare. When a Catholic official tells a few hundred people that a priest has been accused of child sex crimes, almost always, at least one of them passes the word along to one or more media outlets and the identity accused surfaces. So our very strong hunch is that Aquila is deliberately – and recklessly – keeping the alleged predator priest’s name hidden.

Let’s also note other worrisome choices of words in the archdiocesan announcement. It seems designed to minimize the possible crime, using words like ‘touching’ (instead of assaulting or molesting), ‘minor’ (instead of boy or girl), and ‘in a public space’, as if to suggest that if it were done there, it must not be too bad or someone would have seen it happen.

The archdiocese further says that the priest has been a ‘priest in good standing’ and has denied the allegation, neither of which adds anything helpful here. (After all, almost EVERY child molester is ‘in good standing with his employer BEFORE he’s accused of sexually violating a child.)
The only way to potentially decide whether Aquila is being secretive or disingenuous in this matter is to look at whether he’s been secretive or disingenuous in the past.

And we submit that the best measure of this is his archdiocesan list of child molesting clerics. Compare that list with the one put out by the independent and reliable archive

Here’s the archdiocese’s list:
Here’s BishopAccountability’s list:

The archdiocese’s list claims 27 offenders, while the latter includes 42. It becomes pretty clear that Aquila is being secretive once again.

Finally, it’s troubling that Aquila’s list provides so little information about the predators. In fact, under each priest’s name, it gives only three dates: when they were born, when they were ordained, and their status.

Is it helpful to know when a child molesting cleric began his life? Not really. Is it helpful to know when he/she officially became a priest or nun or bishop? Maybe, but not really. Is it helpful to know when he/she died or was defrocked or was excardinated? Somewhat. but again, it would be MUCH more helpful to know:

  • Where he/she worked, every location, both inside and outside the diocese.

2. How much time did church officials protect the predator between the first abuse report and his/her suspension and/or exposure.

And, of course, it would be beneficial to see, on church credibly accused cleric lists, a strong appeal from the Catholic hierarchy to victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers to come forward. Who knows if language like this might gently prod someone scared or pessimistic to pick up the phone and call law enforcement: “As your bishop, I implore you to take one step toward reversing centuries of hurtful secrecy in our church by calling police or prosecutors if you have any information or suspicions that might help them determine the truth of allegations against these clerics, whether they’re alive or dead, in our diocese or elsewhere.”

Again, who knows what impact this might have? But if this kind of language nudges even one witness, or whistleblower to call secular authorities, isn’t it worth it? And how will we know if a clear, strong appeal like this is practical unless bishops give it a try?

Last but not least, how about a middle name, or at least an initial for credibly accused clerics like Charles Brown or Tim Evans or Greg Smith or John Stein? There must be dozens of them in Colorado.
Let’s say you’re a single mom with kids in an apartment building. A guy with one of these names lives next door to you. Thanks to Archbishop Aquila’s ever-so-limited disclosure, it won’t be easy for you to figure out whether he is actually the credibly accused child molesting cleric or not. And Aquila could remedy this very easily, but once again, he chooses not to. So, yes, there seems to be secrecy in the Denver Archdiocese, but that isn’t surprising at all.