Church relieved by priest’s return

Posted 1/5/11

South metro area Catholics are rejoicing at news that a priest who served for nine years at St. Thomas More Church in Centennial has been cleared of …

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Church relieved by priest’s return


South metro area Catholics are rejoicing at news that a priest who served for nine years at St. Thomas More Church in Centennial has been cleared of sexual abuse charges by the Denver Archdiocese.

Father Mel Thompson, St. Thomas More’s assistant pastor, was removed from service last April one day after an unnamed man alleged that the priest had abused him at an undisclosed church in the mid-1970s.

The Archdiocese referred the matter to Denver police, but no criminal investigation was launched due to the statute of limitations.

The Archdiocese announced this month that Thompson, 75, has been cleared by a church investigation and was offered reinstatement. The priest was granted a requested retirement instead.

Michael Kirrane, a lector coordinator at St. Thomas More, was in the pews Jan. 2 when a letter from Archbishop Charles Chaput, the church official who had removed Thompson, was read to parishioners.

“The place just erupted in cheers and clapping and the longest ovation I have heard in a long time,” Kirrane said. “Everybody that I know is absolutely thrilled that [Thompson has] been cleared on all charges.”

Chaput’s statement said the Archdiocesan Conduct Response Team concluded that the accusations against Thompson are not supported by the evidence.

According to Archdiocese spokeswoman Jeanette DeMelo, the team that cleared the priest consisted of two psychologists, a retired police detective, a retired judge and the Archdiocese’s vicar for clergy. Most are Catholic laypersons.

Kirrane says the panel’s conclusions are consistent with what he knows about Thompson’s character.

“Father Mel is one of the most devoted people to the Lord. It’s just outside the realm of belief that he would do anything like that,” Kirrane said.

The investigative panel reached its conclusion unanimously after interviewing people involved in the case. Members of the panel were not identified due to privacy concerns, DeMelo added.

Jeb Barrett, director of the Denver chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, insists the investigation has no credibility because it was organized by church officials.

“I think every survivor of childhood sexual assault should be outraged,” Barrett said. “The outrage is they think anybody is going to swallow the idea that a self-investigation is going to be accepted by anybody with any brains.”

The alleged 1970s incident was not the only time Thompson has been accused of sexual misconduct. In a 7News report aired in May 2010, a man said the priest propositioned him at Lakewood’s Our Lady of Fatima Church when the man was a college student in the 1990s.

In response to a request for a comment on the 7News report, DeMelo wrote in an e-mail, “The heart of the Conduct Response Team’s review is that Father Mel poses no threat to the safety of anyone.”

Efforts to contact Thompson were not successful.


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