Final State Report Concludes More Than 200 Colorado Children Were Abused By Priests, Catholic Church Vows Reform

Jim Hill/CPR News
The St. John Vianney Seminary and the archdiocese are headquartered at the St. John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization in the Cory-Merrill neighborhood of Denver, Colo.

Updated 7:50 a.m.

Fifty-two Catholic priests who served in Colorado during the last half of the 20th century victimized more than 200 children in that time, according to a sweeping final report on priest sexual abuse released by state officials Tuesday.

But investigators note the church has agreed to large-scale reform.

The 93-page report is the last product of 22 months of work by independent investigators working at the behest of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

Led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, the group interviewed hundreds of people and analyzed thousands of documents in an attempt to furnish an accurate — and complete — reckoning of 70 years of priest sex abuse in Colorado.

Investigators first published a preliminary report more than a year ago, detailing painful accounts of abuse at the hands of priests in the state for more than four decades. Tuesday’s report comes after more victims came forward after the first report.

It adds more details, increases the number of victims, and names several additional priests accused of abuse in Denver and Pueblo — including a high profile Denver priest who started several homeless shelters.

“We cannot overstate the courage it takes for victims to recount their abuse,” the report said. “No one helped us more than the victims themselves. We hope the First Report and this Supplemental Report honor the courage, suffering, sacrifice, and healing of all the victims of clergy child sex abuse.”

The nearly two-year probe, launched by Weiser upon his election in 2018, also aimed to change what Colorado’s dioceses are doing to be safer for children, both now and in the future — including putting into place child-abuse prevention and protection systems. 

Those reforms include suspending any priest accused of child sexual misconduct and providing victim-assistance coordinators to anyone who comes forward with an accusation. Each diocese also has substantially improved its records system to facilitate child abuse reporting and coordination with law enforcement. 

Most significantly, Colorado dioceses have committed to regular audits of their child-protection systems.

“These important improvements appear to be sound,” the report said. “At this point, though, they are largely untested.”

The final report includes 46 additional incidents of abuse of children, 37 boys and nine girls, by 25 diocesan priests in Colorado that weren’t previously reported.

Sixteen of the 46 newly reported victims were abused by priests who had already been identified to the relevant diocese as a child sex abuser, the report said.

Nine of those priests were previously unreported in the state’s first accounting. They are Father Kenneth Funk, Father Daniel Kelleher, Father James Moreno, Father Gregory Smith and Father Charles Woodrich, from the Denver Archdiocese and Monsignor Marvin Kapushion, Father Duane Repola, Father Carlos Trujillo and Father Joseph Walsh of Pueblo.

Woodrich, who died in 1991, was known as "Father Woody." He opened the Samaritan House on 23rd and Lawrence for the homeless and was hailed as the "patron saint" for the poor when he died. He was known for giving out cash to homeless people at Christmas.

Woodrich's victims, three boys, all stepped forward saying Woodrich groomed them while they attended Holy Ghost Parish in Denver, forcing them to engage in sexual contact, oral sex and anal sex, according to the report. The abuse took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

The three victims reported the abuse after the priest was dead and it did not appear that the Denver Archdiocese received any reports on Woodrich engaging in sexual misconduct.

In a statement, Mark Haas, a spokesman for the Denver Archdiocese, said learning about the "sins of former priests" has been extremely difficult.

He said the church has removed Woody's name from any honorary designations, including buildings, facilities and programs. There were "Father Woody" programs at Regis University and he was the namesake of a day shelter in Denver, called Haven of Hope.

"It is important to note that the ministerial work of the church is the work of Jesus Christ," Haas said, in a statement. "Not the work of a specific priest."

Haven of Hope's executive director, Tawnya Trahan, said on Tuesday the shelter has never had any affiliation with the Catholic Church and that Woody's name was on the building because the founders were inspired by his work for the poor.

But when allegations surfaced this summer that Woodrich was under investigation, Trahan took the steps to officially strip his name from the enterprise, including filing official paperwork with the Secretary of State's office.

"What we do here is very positive," Trahan said. "He never has set foot in our shelter, he never had anything to do with what we do here ... We had to protect our work and what we do is incredibly important."

At Regis University, spokeswoman Jennifer Forker confirmed that the school has "rechristened" the service program to honor the school's namesake, St. John Francis Regis, who also toiled to serve the poor and needy.

"The name has changed, but the mission has not," Forker said, in a statement. "We unequivocally support the attorney general and the Archdiocese of Denver for jointly agreeing to this comprehensive, independent and critically necessary review and for the commitment to transparency."

In Denver, the newly named priests are all deceased, with the exception of Moreno and Haas confirmed the church is working to laicize him. A spokeswoman from the Pueblo Archdiocese said all of the newly named Pueblo priests are dead, except Trujillo, but he has already been laicized.

Weiser said, while painful, he hoped the report brought “meaningful change” to how Colorado dioceses protect children from abuse. 

“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,” Weiser said. “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.”

The incidents of abuse, including the newest revelations, took place between 1951 and 1999, with the majority of the abuse occurring in the 1960s, according to the report.

Colorado's Catholic Church has paid out $7.3 million in settlements to victims as apart of the independent compensation program set up by the state probe.

In October, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila said he wanted to meet with all of the survivors who participated in the program, so he could offer a personal apology.

“I am deeply sorry for the pain and hurt that was caused by the abuse you suffered,” Aquila wrote to the archdiocese community. “I remain steadfastly committed to meeting with any survivor who desires to meet with me and doing everything I can so that the problems of the past never repeat themselves.”

Jeb Barrett, director of Colorado's chapter of SNAP, or Surviors Network of Those Abused By Priests, said he is grateful for the state's commitment to pursue the revelations about priest abuse -- but is skeptical that the church will really change.

"They love to make it sound like they are doing all they can, but they are doing all that they want to do," Barrett said. "I don't know if there is any outside monitoring ... I am not confident."

Indeed, even Weiser stopped short of ensuring the Catholic church would embark on the reforms, as promised.

"If they don't do it, we would have to see what, if any, oversight there might be," Weiser said. "I think at a minimum they have put themselves out there and they are in the position for needing to rebuild a reputation that was shattered in this controversy."

Weiser added that the report was extremely difficult for him to read.

"It was a reckoning that in our society, people who were in positions of trust hurt other people and inflicted trauma," he said. "We want to tell your story if you wanted it told ... The work we have to do is to make sure it doesn't happen again."