Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We must face the past and learn from it, and we must know if our children are safe today. Thanks to our ongoing vigilance, they are.
A year ago, I made a promise that the Archdiocese of Denver would not hide from the past and must face the historical sexual abuse of minors by its diocesan priests. In February I wrote to you, advising you that we were working with the Attorney General’s office to invite an independent third-party investigator, former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer, to conduct an independent review of all three dioceses in Colorado. The scope of that work is documented in a written agreement, which is published on our website and the Attorney General’s website, and anyone who reads that document will understand it was a sweeping investigation.
I want to thank Attorney General Phil Weiser, and Mr. Troyer for their efforts to work with us to protect children. This was not an easy task for anyone involved.
Mr. Troyer’s review is now complete, and his written report covers 70 years of files and allegations of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1950. Mr. Troyer interviewed survivors, priests, experts, victim advocates, safe environment staff, and others as part of his investigation and fact-finding efforts. He met with experts in the field of child abuse prevention. In addition, the Attorney General’s office set up a phone line and encouraged survivors to come forward. New survivors came forward. We should all be comforted that this investigation spanned seven decades, has been thorough and is transparent.
I promised without reservation that I would openly share his report and adopt his recommendations. I honor that promise today.
There are nine cases from the 1950s to 1970s and one case from the 1990s without a specific date.
I want to start by addressing the courage of the survivors who have shared the stories of their abuse. As a result of the Attorney General and Church’s shared efforts to have this issue investigated and a report published, several survivors have come forward for the first time and more are likely to come forward in the days ahead. We recognize how difficult it is for survivors of abuse to share their stories, and we thank all of you for your courage.
If any survivor wishes to meet with me personally, my door is open. I have met with many survivors, and from these heart wrenching personal interactions, I know there are no words that I can say that will take away the pain. However, I want to be clear that on behalf of myself and the Church, I apologize for the pain and hurt that this abuse has caused. I am sorry about this horrible history—but it is my promise to continue doing everything I can so it never happens again. My sincere hope is that this report provides some small measure of justice and healing.
As we all read about the abuse of the past, it is easy to become angry at the abusers and those who protected them, and deeply saddened at the damage these perpetrators inflicted on children. Indeed, two priests, Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie, account for over 60% of all the victims in the report. These two men devastated dozens of victims and their families. Fourteen years ago, in 2006, the Archdiocese of Denver established a program for victims of priests to come forward, and more than 50 victims came forward and received financial compensation. More have come forward since then. I commit to you through the independent compensation program jointly opened two weeks ago—by all three dioceses in Colorado—that we are here to help you if you were abused by one of these two priests or any other diocesan priest.
One of the important goals of this independent review was to determine whether our children are safe—whether there are diocesan priests in ministry with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. From his review, Mr. Troyer identified no diocesan priests in active ministry in the Archdiocese with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor. His report also found no substantiated reports of sexual abuse of minors by diocesan priests in the Archdiocese within the past 20 years. Consistent with every study of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church—over 85% of the reported cases examined by Mr. Troyer are from the 1970s or earlier. The last substantiated incident of abuse across all three dioceses was 1998 (and that priest is in prison and the case was handled properly by the Archdiocese). The horror of this abuse is something we must learn from, and for me it culminates in a single word. VIGILANCE.
Before I turn to the need for vigilance, please, I urge you, for the innocent priests who serve you and this community every day and who have suffered this scandal, for the parents in our schools, for all of those in our parishes and programs, for our volunteers and for every good-intentioned person in Colorado, maintain focus on the fact that review identifies no substantiated allegations of abuse in the last 20 years and found no diocesan priest in active ministry with a substantiated claim of abuse. We are truly blessed with the priests in our Archdiocese! As I have read the report and revisit the historical abuse from decades ago, I have kept this progress in the front of my mind.
Now we must learn from the suffering of the victims and never assume that we could not face another perpetrator in our midst. Just in the last few years it has become even more apparent that perpetrators infect every organization, the Boy Scouts, the public schools, the Olympics, news organizations, colleges—these abusers can manifest in every part of our lives if we are not alert and responsive. We, more than any organization in this Country, know we must be vigilant.
The Archdiocese believes strongly in the prevention and reporting policies we’ve implemented and strengthened since 1991, but we welcomed an independent review to identify any weaknesses or gaps that could be addressed. Since the Dallas Charter of 2002, we have trained 84,000 priests, deacons, employees and volunteers on how to identify signs of abuse or neglect and on their obligations as mandatory reporters. Every year, approximately 22,000 children are trained how to identify inappropriate conduct by adults and how they can report it. We require all priests to sign a sexual misconduct policy and attend training. It is efforts like these that make me grateful to our Office of Child and Youth Protection and the more than one hundred thousand lay Catholics that make our environments safe.
Importantly, Mr. Troyer found our safe environment training programs to be effective. But, given his experience and work on this project, he recommended that our investigation of reported abuse should be done by independent trained investigators and the process needs to be more victim-centered. We are committed to continuing to improve our response to anyone who comes forward to report sexual abuse as a minor, and specifically those that come forward when they are adults and their abusers were removed from ministry or died a long time ago. We know we have been able to help many people, but we will listen and learn from those who came forward and felt they weren’t treated appropriately. Indeed, we will follow all of Mr. Troyer’s recommendations and are already working to implement changes. I plan to personally be involved in that effort and will be in continued contact with Mr. Troyer and the Attorney General to make sure our collaboration to protect children is ongoing.
REASSERTING THE PROMISE
To close, I will remind you that a year ago, as your Archbishop, I made a series of public promises to ensure the sins of the past are not repeated. Today I stand by those promises and reassert my commitment to them further:
- Allegations of sexual abuse of a minor will continue to always be properly reported to local authorities.
- I will continue to immediately remove a member of the clergy or any other church worker from active ministry during an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.
- I will continue to take very seriously all reported incidents of misconduct by members of the clergy or other Church workers, and we will investigate even non-criminal misconduct with great diligence.
- I will continue to never transfer a member of the clergy who is under investigation.
- I will continue to remove from ministry permanently and without the ability to be transferred to any other Catholic institution, any member of the clergy who is found to have had sexual misconduct with a minor.
- I will continue to hold us accountable for addressing misconduct whenever we are made aware of it.
Sexual abuse is a societal problem and there is no single answer or single action to eliminate all sexual abuse, but we will not rest in our efforts to protect children. We will use our resources and community partnerships to be a leader in this area, and we will strive to improve. For a full list of my promises to you, and for additional information about the report, please review the entirety of this website.
Please join me in praying for all survivors, their families, and our communities, and for our ongoing efforts to bring healing and reconciliation to the survivors of sexual abuse.
Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L.
Archbishop of Denver
In order to honor the faithful clergy and laity of this archdiocese, and express the seriousness of my resolve, I SOLEMNLY PROMISE the following:
- The Archdiocese of Denver strives to be a highly reliable and ethically sound institution in our business practices, personnel assignments and protection of the vulnerable.
- Allegations of sexual abuse of a minor will always be properly reported to local authorities. I will continue the Archdiocese of Denver’s strong track record of cooperation with law enforcement.
- I will immediately remove a member of the clergy or any other church worker from active ministry during an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.
- I take very seriously all reported incidents of misconduct by members of the clergy or other Church workers, and we will investigate even non-criminal misconduct with great diligence.
- I will never transfer a member of the clergy who is under investigation.
- I will remove from ministry permanently and without the ability to be transferred to any other Catholic institution, any member of the clergy who is found to have had sexual misconduct with a minor.
- We hold ourselves accountable for addressing misconduct whenever we are made aware of it.
- All priests, deacons, employees and volunteers who are around children are trained on how to spot signs of abuse and neglect, and are trained in their role as mandatory state reporters.
- I adhere with great diligence to all of our internal policies and procedures.
- I will continue to strengthen our institutional training, screening, and monitoring of all clergy members, employees, and volunteers.
- I will continue to uphold the teachings of the Church, especially in the areas of sexual morality.
- I will correct anyone in any Catholic institution in the Archdiocese who is found to be undermining the teachings of the Church.
- I will defend the Catholic faith from assaults that come from either inside or outside the Church.
- I demand and will continue to enforce a strict and diligent screening process for all seminary applicants.
- I am grateful for your lifelong commitment to serve the Church.
- I will protect you from false accusations and strive to preserve your good name.
- I honor your rights and I will ensure that due process is followed if you are ever accused of misconduct.
- I will provide you with even better on-going formation, tools, and resources to ensure your physical, spiritual, and psychological well-being.
- I will ensure that the continual evaluation process, while rigorous, is fair.
- I will continue to provide honorable and trustworthy priests to oversee your formation.
- You will be heard if you have a concern or complaint about a formator priest, professor, or brother seminarian.
- I will do everything in my power to help you become the holy priests God called you to be.
Frequently Asked Questions
Former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer was given full access to 70 years of diocesan files concerning the sexual abuse of minors by diocesan priests—including the so-called “secret archive” files—and the opportunity to interview victims, priests, and other witnesses. His report included an analysis of the diocese’s policies related to preventing and responding to sexual abuse of minors; the dioceses’ compliance with Colorado law requiring the mandatory reporting to law enforcement of abuse allegations; a list of all diocesan priests that are the subject of one or more substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950.
There were four goals: (1) To publicly acknowledge this history of sexual abuse, and in doing so provide a moment of justice for any survivor and encourage others to come forward; (2) To assure the Attorney General, public and members of the Archdiocese – clergy and laity – that no diocesan priest known to sexually abuse a minor is in active ministry; (3) To identify any needed improvements to our policies and procedures to ensure they are of the highest standard; (4) To allow the thousands of people who are working to make the Archdiocese a safe environment for children to see the progress of their work.
The review focused on all diocesan and extern priests who have served in the Archdiocese between 1950 and today. While religious order priests often serve in our parishes, they report to a different religious superior who maintains their files and handles allegations of misconduct.
For the Archdiocese of Denver, the review identifies 21 diocesan and one extern priest who were responsible for more than 120 substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. For some context: the most recent case was in 1999 and no substantiated allegations were found against any current diocesan or extern priest in ministry. Nearly 90-percent of the known abuse happened more than 40 years ago (1950-1979 – see chart below). Over 60-percent of the abuse was committed by two former priests – H. Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie. And roughly 75-percent of the abuse was committed by four former priests – White, Abercrombie, Neil Hewitt and John Holloway – none of whom have been in ministry for the last 26 years.
Of the 22 priests, 15 of them are dead and none of the other seven are in active ministry. The most recent substantiated allegation in the report was perpetrated by Timothy Evans in 1999. Evans has been laicized and served time in prison. More details in the FULL FAQ.
Yes. The policies and procedures that have been implemented and strengthened over the last three decades have shown to be effective. Every priest, deacon, employee and volunteer who works with children must pass a background check and attend safe-environment training to be educated on preventing, spotting and responding to potential abuse. We currently have 14,000 trained mandatory reporters, and every year approximately 20,000 children are taught how to keep themselves safe. We have also strengthened our seminary screening and formation process to better prepare our future priests.
The archdiocese will immediately work to implement the recommendations of the report, most of which deal with how we investigate historical allegations and respond to survivors who are now adults. To our faithful: we would encourage you to attend one of the safe environment training classes that are required for our priests, deacons, employees and volunteers who work with children. We would also encourage you to find ways to support your current priests, who far too often are judged as guilty by association. Finally, we should all continue to pray for the healing of everyone impacted by sexual abuse.
Five things for Catholics to keep in mind regarding the Independent File Review
Understanding the Report
The published report is over 250 pages. It is divided up by diocese, and further divided up into sub-sections as specified by the original agreement. It is a lot to process. On this page, we provide some basic context to what the review found, along with the list of priests who are identified in the report.
Reasons for Review
On February 19, 2019, all three Colorado dioceses voluntarily entered into an agreement with the Colorado attorney general to review our priest personnel files to determine those who have substantiated allegations of sexually abusing a minor. Look back at why we choose to make this agreement and at the impact of the wider church.