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Priest abuse report: Denver Archdiocese was 'frequently dishonest' to protect itself

Father Harold White sexually abused children for 21 years, even though the Denver Archdiocese knew from the start he was a child sex abuser, according to the report.

DENVER — A report released Wednesday that details child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Colorado says there's evidence that the Denver Archdiocese knew of suspected abuse, but didn't report it, and sometimes waited years to report it to the proper authorities. 

The Archdiocese knew at the onset of one priest's career that he was a child sex abuser, the report says. Father Harold White was moved around six times over the course of 21 years, the report says, in an effort for the Archdiocese to "protect itself."

At least 166 children were abused by priests in the Archdiocese of Denver, Diocese of Colorado Springs and the Diocese of Pueblo, which were the focus of an independent investigation that the Attorney General's office launched in February. That report names 43 Catholic priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing in Colorado since 1950.

A majority of the victims were abused by priests who were assigned to the Denver Archdiocese, which is the largest of the three. At least 127 children were victimized by 22 priests in the Archdiocese of Denver, the report says. 

Three priests, according to the report, are responsible for sexually abusing 90 children.

In an emailed statement, the Denver Archdiocese said: "Despicable things happened in our parishes, and at the time there were incredible failures to properly address them. The Archdiocese of Denver in 2019 is much different than it was decades ago. We have taken huge steps to address this issue, and the report documents the dramatic decrease in known substantiated allegations.  We make no claim that the problem is forever solved, but rather are reminded today that we must remain vigilant to ensure our parishes and schools remain safe."

> Click/tap here to view Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila's message to Colorado Catholics.

The report called Father Harold White "the most prolific known clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history" and noted that "his sexual abuse of children began before he was ordained in 1960, and it continued for at least 21 years in at least 6 parishes" in Colorado.

During that time, the report says, "it is more likely than not he sexually abused at least 63 children."

The Archdiocese "knew from the outset of White’s career that he was a child sex abuser", the report says.

DATABASE: 

You can search for information about the priests named in the report below. You can search by name, diocese and parish. To see a full list of the priests, leave the search field blank and hit "enter."  

When he had "sexually abused enough children at a parish that scandal threatened to erupt,"  the Archdiocese moved him to a new one, according to the report. They were far enough away that White was unknown there, the report says.

White was moved at least six times, according to the report, and not once did the Archdiocese restrict his ministry, or remove him from ministry.

The Archdiocese was "frequently dishonest" with White’s victims, their parishioners and the public about his child sex abuse and the Denver Archdiocese’s knowledge of it, the report says.

White’s file reveals the Archdiocese did that for decades to protect itself, according to the report.

White forcibly fondled a 13-year-old St. Catherine parish student and altar server in 1960, the report says. The boy, called Victim #1 in the report,  told other boys in the school the day after the abuse, the report says.

They told the religious sisters, and the religious sisters told the principal of the school, according to the report.

The Archdiocese was aware of at least two prior reports of White engaging in sexual misconduct with children before he sexually abused Victim #1, the report says.

One report camed from a student of White's while he was a deacon at the school. Specifically, that student reported to the parish school principal that White “made him feel creepy” and was “doing.. things to him,” the report says.

After the boy came forward, the" principal grabbed the boy, slammed his head against a blackboard" the report says. The boy was also told never to talk about it again, according to the report.

When confronted by his superiors in 1960 about his sexual misconduct with boys, White admitted it, but there were no consequences, the report says.

When the parish school principal heard about Victim #1, he called the victim to his office, and "told the victim he was a liar", the report says.

The religious sisters and the principal then ostracized Victim #1, shamed him, and threatened to tell his mother about things he had said during confession with Father White if ever talked about the abuse again, the report says.

Victim #3 also came forward in 1960, but there was no investigation and it was not reported to law enforcement, the report says.

When the victim reported again in 2006, the Archdiocese listened to his accusations but did nothing, according to the report. When Victim #3 reported a third time, in 2016, the Diocese offered him counseling services but did not report it to law enforcement or investigate.

In December 1961, the report says, White admitted he sexually abused Victim #5. This time the abuse was reported up to the Denver Archdiocese’s Archbishop, according to the report, and as a result, the Pastor with whom White worked admonished White.

White promised not to engage in any more sexual misconduct and no further action was taken, according to the report. In fact, the Pastor promised the Denver Archbishop he "would keep White away from boys" and convinced the Archbishop to keep White in ministry. Over the next 20 years, at least 60 additional children were sexually abused by White, the report says.

Victim #6 was sexually abused between 1960 and 1962, and according to the report, he reported his sexual abuse to the St. Catherine Pastor and others working at St. Catherine School immediately after it happened. They told the victim they did not believe him, despite the fact that, according to the report, the Archdiocese was already aware of five previous victims.

Victim #8 immediately reported his abuse by White to his parents after it occurred in 1962, and they reported to the pastor, according to the report.

The Pastor admonished White and told him "sexually abusing children would not be tolerated", the report says. The Pastor also told the victim's parents to "keep the incident to themselves" and that "he would handle it." 

The Diocese did nothing, the report says, except tell an Assistant Pastor to “keep his eye open” and to “take the work with boys out of [White’s] hands.”

When victim #8 came forward again in 2004, the Archdiocese reported it to Denver Police and offered him counseling.

The Archdiocese first learned that White sexually abused Victim #9 when White himself disclosed it, the report says.

In February 1993, after decades of abuse by White had accumulated the Archdiocese him to list by parish all the child sex abuse he could recall committing since his ordination in 1960, according to the report.

He compiled a list that identified 26 children by name and 29 others whose names he could not remember, all of whom he had sexually abused between 1960 and 1981 at 6 different Archdiocese parishes. White reported in that list that he had committed over 70 acts of sex abuse against those children.

The Archdiocese permanently removed White from ministry in 1993, and he was formally removed as a clergy member in 2004. The report notes, that even then the Archdiocese was not transparent with parishioners and explained that White was removed from the ministry based on medical reasons.

In 2005, a year before White's death, the  Archdiocese reported White's sexual abuse of Victim #30 to the Logan County Sheriff's Office. When the detective asked the Archdiocese what other law enforcement agencies in
Colorado were investigating, the Diocese did not mention that they had also reported White to Denver Police or that it had received over 80 reports of White’s sexual abuse of children over the years.

White died in 2006 at the age of 73.

Father Leonard Abercrombie, who's accused of sexually abusing 18 boys, was also repeatedly moved around to different parishes.

 According to the report, his file contains “almost no information” about the reasoning for his moves, but there's “strong circumstantial evidence” that the Archdiocese knew he was sexually abusing children as early as 1962.

RELATED: Report names 43 Colorado Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing at least 166 children since 1950

He continued to sexually abuse children for another decade until his departure from the state in 1972, the report says.

REPORT:

Abercombie's first victim, referred to as "Victim #1" in the report, came forward to the Archdiocese in July 1993 and said Abercrombie sexually abused him between 1954 and 1958 when the victim was between 7 years old and 11 years old.

None of Abercrombie's victims came forward while the abuse was occurring, the report says, however it notes that around the time Victim #1 was abused, Abercrombie himself reported twice to the Archdiocese that his "parishioners were accusing him of being homosexual," the report says.

The report also notes that at the time, church personnel often used the term homosexual to refer specifically to "sexual misconduct with underage boys" and not to mean sexual preference.

A memo written by an Auxillary bishop at the time said that while stationed in Roggen, Abercrombie came to him twice complaining that he was being accused of being a homosexual, the report says.

RELATED: 9NEWS coverage of priest sex abuse allegations in Colorado

The bishop wrote, "I told him to ignore it, and to see that his actions gave no grounds for even slight suspicion," according to the report. He went on to say, "Seemingly, he is plagued by this accusation. I have no knowledge which would justify it."

Abercrombie “firmly denied” Victim #1’s allegation, however, the report says given information in Abercrombie's file and the stories of his 18 known victims, his denial is "not credible".

After learning of Victim #1's allegation, the Archdiocese opened an investigation and six months later removed his faculties. They also notified the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that it had removed his faculties because Abercrombie was living in that area. Abercrombie died in 1994.

The abuse was not reported to law enforcement, and according to the report, the Archdiocese said that was "in accord with the victim's wishes."

However, in 2005, shortly after Victim #1 filed a lawsuit against the  Archdiocese, it released information about Abercrombie’s sexual abuse of children to Abercrombie’s former parishes and called for anyone with more information to come forward. They reached a settlement in 2007. 

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