Local church leaders pray for truth and justice for victims

Catholic church, state Attorney General join forces in review of sexual abuse of minors

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For Monsignor Thomas Fryar of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial, the recently announced diocese-law enforcement investigation into child sexual abuse within the church is a strong step in the right direction.

“Good Lord willing, this is going to show the people there’s a problem in the past that’s long since taken care of,” Fryar said. “This is a sign the church has got some good steps in place that others can take advantage of.”

The Colorado Attorney General and the Catholic Church in Colorado announced in February a collaborative effort to investigate incidences of child sexual abuse in the past.

According to a Feb. 19 news release from the Colorado Catholic Conference, the joint initiative calls for an independent reviewer to examine records and policies of the state’s three dioceses — Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — and sets up a compensation program for victims of abuse and a victims’ support service. 

At the Feb. 19 conference announcing the task force, Attorney General Phil Weiser, who was accompanied by Archbishop Samuel Aquila, said sexual abuse of minors is “a societal problem that demands attention and action,” the release stated.

Colorado Community Media contacted numerous priests throughout the Denver metro area for comment on the task force initiative. But most either did not return phone calls or deferred comment to Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, who said the church will not comment beyond what was presented in the Feb. 19 news release.

However, in an Feb. 19 letter emailed to parishioners of St. Mark Catholic Church in Highlands Ranch, Father Greg Bierbaum wrote about the frustration he and others felt at the lack of concrete action on the part of the church to address the abuse crisis. 

“We must all pray for the truth to be found and whatever action that needs to be taken as a result, will be openly and swiftly and fairly done,” Bierbaum wrote. “As always, we must pray for healing for any who are abused by those who broke their solemn responsibility to keep others safe. I thank our bishops for their sincere efforts to be a part of the solution to this grave crisis in the church.”

In the Colorado Catholic Conference release, Aquila said the church needs to be more transparent in its handling of these cases and lauded the initative as a good beginning.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” Aquila said. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

Former U.S. Attorney for Colorado Robert Troyer will act as the independent third party who will review the files of the three dioceses related to the sexual abuse of minors. He will prepare a public report on his findings sometime this fall, the news release states. The Attorney General’s office will cooperate with local district attorney offices to aid in evaluating potential criminal issues. 

The report, however, is not a criminal investigation and the state is not aware of any previously unreported criminal conduct, the release said. Former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman initiated the review process in fall 2018 before Weiser took office.

But the report will include names of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, details of the allegations, a review of the response of the three dioceses to the allegations in the past and a review of current policies and procedures. The dioceses will pay for half of Troyer’s work, and the other half will be contributed through private, anonymous donations. 

The Colorado dioceses will also fund an independent reparations program, providing financial awards to victims. Half of the money will come from the church and half from private, anonymous donors.

The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault provided a statement on the announcement of the joint initiative:

“We are pleased to hear of the commitment from the Church and State to remedy decades of institutionalized child sexual abuse with meaningful access to reparations and ongoing support services for victims where accountability will be essential to ensuring our communities, and places of worship, are made safe for everyone.”

Weiser also is pleased about the church’s recognition for transparency and reparations.

“This independent review promises a full evaluation and inquiry,” he said in the release. “For any victims of sexual abuse, this will provide a recognition of past wrongdoing and offer an opportunity for healing.”

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