For A Survivor Of Abuse, The Investigation Into Colorado’s Catholic Church Offers Hope — But Also Renewed Trauma

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Rob Keeris/AP Photo
Members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) attend a press conference in Voorburg, near The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011.

For Jeb Barrett, there was both hope and continued pain in Wednesday’s report detailing child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Colorado.

Barrett, who lives in Aurora, heads SNAP Colorado — which stands for Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests. He was 17 when he was abused by a priest in Missoula, Montana.

Wednesday’s report by an independent investigator found it was “more likely than not” that at least 166 children were abused by Catholic priests in the state since 1970. The church waited an average of 19.5 years before restricting an abusive priest’s religious activities.

Barrett said he was surprised and pleased by the amount of detail in the report. 

“What we have is, I think, a great gift to Colorado that we’re getting the kind of information that we need to start a very long journey toward total accountability and transparency and the protection of kids,” Barrett said.

Courtesy of Jeb Barrett
Jeb Barrett in a recent photo.

But the investigation doesn’t rule out the possibility that abuse is still going unreported. The 166 cases are “probably just the tip of the iceberg of the amount of abuse there’s been, the amount of denial and the amount of coverup,” Barrett said.

And, he said, the report won’t necessarily help survivors recover. 

“The report, as wonderful as it is, does retraumatize all of us,” he said. “The healing is a lifelong process and for some of us it’s a daily thing when we’re trying to support others.”

The investigation was conducted by former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer. The report repeatedly criticizes the church for poor record-keeping and investigative practices and concludes that it’s impossible to tell whether any current priests have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of children. 

“We know of none but we also know we cannot be positive that there are none,” the investigators wrote in the report.

Barrett said the clergy’s vow of celibacy creates a “hypocritical culture” that opens the door for abuse. 

“It leads us to believe that we can leave our children with this priest or this nun, let them go on an outing, go to camp with them and that they’ll never touch them, but that’s not the truth,” Barrett said.

In a video message to church members, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila promised to make several changes recommended in the report. He also pointed to reforms the church has already made and said the investigation, “offers us evidence that shows our Catholic parishes and schools are as safe as any environment in society.” 

Barrett rejected that claim.

“I can't believe that,” he said. “I can't believe that because there's such a long history of denying and hiding and protecting predators and not reporting the civil authorities abuse that is reported to them.”

If you are a survivor of abuse by a priest in Colorado's Catholic Church, you can file a claim for compensation with the Colorado Attorney General's Office here.