DENVER – More than 160 children in Colorado were sexually abused by 43 Roman Catholic priests over 70 years, with most victims abused in the 1960s and 1970s, according to a report released Wednesday by Colorado’s attorney general.
The findings of the independent investigation show the state’s three Catholic dioceses spent decades attempting to cover up the abuse, Colorado Public Radio reports .
The monthslong investigation was led by Bob Troyer, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, and was released by state Attorney General Phil Weiser, who commissioned the project earlier this year.
The most recent abuse cases involve four children and one Denver priest in 1998. The report says the church continues to receive allegations of abuse by clergy dating back decades.
It says priests abused nine children in the 1980s and at least 11 in the 1990s.
In a letter to Catholics on Wednesday, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila said he will do everything to ensure the widespread abuse doesn’t happen again and that he will follow a series of recommendations by Troyer to enhance reporting and church accountability.
“I am sorry about this horrible history – but it is my promise to continue doing everything I can so it never happens again,” Aquila said. “My sincere hope is that this report provides some small measure of justice and healing.”
The investigation into the Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo dioceses could not rule out the possibility that clergy currently serving have been accused of sexually abusing children.
“Arguably, the most urgent question asked of our work is this: Are there Colorado priests currently in ministry who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children?” the report said. “The direct answer is only partially satisfying: We know of none but we also know we cannot be positive there are none.”
Troyer was sharply critical of the church’s response to abuse allegations, finding that the average time it took for a church restriction against a priest credibly accused of abuse was nearly 20 years.
More than half of victims were abused after church officials were made aware that priests involved were abusers.
“Concluding from this report that clergy child sex abuse is ‘solved’ is inaccurate and will only lead to complacency, which will in turn put more children at risk of sexual abuse,” the report said.
Church officials opened files for the Colorado investigation. It was the latest in numerous investigations across the U.S. into the institution’s sexual abuse crisis.
Weiser has launched a reparations program that allows child abuse victims to apply for claims. It started accepting applications this month.
The document carries a warning that it “contains graphic and disturbing accounts of the sexual abuse of children.” It names priests responsible, but does not include abuse of children by priests from other religious orders who worked in Catholic parishes.
It also does not address abuse of adults, including religious sisters or seminary students.
The report urges the Colorado church to hire independent investigators for abuse complaints; adopt electronic record-keeping and a complaint tracking system; hire an outside auditor to monitor continued church reporting; and hire victims’ advocates.
Sexual abuse by Harold Robert White, a defrocked priest, have been known since shortly before his death in 2006. But Wednesday’s report clarifies that White likely sexually abused at least 63 children throughout a 33-year career beginning in the 1960s.
White took a “healing” sabbatical in 1981 before returning to work in at least seven more Colorado parishes.