One of the Catholic priests newly named as a child sex abuser was a counselor at a church camp in August 1958 when a 10-year-old deaf boy disappeared under mysterious circumstances, 9Wants to Know has learned.
That makes him one of three seminarians who were counselors at Camp St. Malo that summer who have since had accusations of child sexual abuse sustained after a 22-month examination of church records by investigators working for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
Jerry Repola, who died in 1971 after a prolonged illness, sexually abused a teen-ager while he was assigned to a parish in Grand Junction, according to a supplemental report released this week by state Attorney General Phil Weiser.
It followed up on a report released in October 2019. Together, the two reports detail sexual abuse of at least 212 children in Colorado by 52 priests between 1950 and 1999.
The disappearance of Bobby Bizup – and the discovery of his remains nearly a year later high on Mount Meeker west of the camp – were the subject of a long-running 9Wants to Know investigation. It found that two counselors there when Bobby vanished, Harold Robert White and Neil Hewitt, were serial child sex abusers.
RELATED: What happened to Bobby Bizup?
White – termed “the most prolific known clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history” in the initial report – molested at least 70 children during his two decades as an ordained priest. And Hewitt molested at least nine kids during the 18 years he was in the priesthood.
White died in 2006.
Hewitt, who left the priesthood in 1980 and married, acknowledged that he was among the last to see Bobby – and was the one who found his remains in a gulley several miles west of the camp.
But during a talk with a reporter in 2019 outside his Arizona home, and again on the phone in November, Hewitt said he “did not do anything” to Bobby.
Mark Haas, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver, which owned and operated Camp St. Malo, said there are no records that could help explain what happened to the boy.
“This tragic situation occurred 62 years ago and no one currently working for the Archdiocese has any direct knowledge of it,” Haas said in a statement. “We are not in a position to respond to speculation about something that happened six decades ago.”
Messages left Tuesday and Wednesday with the Diocese of Pueblo, where Repola served for the seven years he was a priest, were not returned.
The boy’s disappearance was treated as a case of a youngster who got lost. A coroner classified his death as likely being the result of “exhaustion and exposure” and termed it an accident.
The presence of counselors who later molested children led the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Bureau to launch its own investigation of Bobby’s disappearance.
It also recently added the case to the cold case listing on its website.
The presence of Repola at the camp is expected to be part of that investigation.
Repola attended St. Thomas Seminary in Denver from 1956 to 1964, working three summers as a counselor at Camp St. Malo. He was ordained in 1964 in Walsenburg.
According to the report released this week, Repola sexually abused a boy in 1967 in Grand Junction.
And although it is the only case against him that’s been substantiated, the report’s author, former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, raised the possibility that was not his only victim.
“Repola’s record as a diocesan priest and his pattern of assignments indicate that the Pueblo Diocese may have been aware that he engaged in such behavior,” Troyer wrote in the report.
Repola’s first assignment, given a few weeks after his ordination in June 1964, was to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in La Junta.
He was there only a year before he was transferred to Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Grand Junction.
He was a parish priest there when he molested that boy.
In the fall of 1968, he was removed from parish ministry and given a chaplaincy in Alamosa.
But that lasted only about a year, and the Pueblo diocese removed him from ministry.
He requested a return to ministry but instead was placed on a leave of absence and required to participate in “professional counseling,” according to the report.
In the fall of 1970, he became ill.
He died March 5, 1971, at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver.
“The short duration of his assignments, the geographic scope of his assignments, his leave of absence, the requirement that he participate in professional counseling, and the Pueblo Diocese’s silence about the reasons for any of these events indicate that the Pueblo Diocese may have known Repola engaged in the sexual abuse of children,” Troyer wrote. “We reach that conclusion having seen in our investigations numerous child sex-abuser priests in Colorado with a similar pattern of assignments and employment actions.”
Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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