stained glass at St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral

Stained glass at St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral. (Gazette file phote, Bryan Oller) 

When Pope John Paul II came to Denver for World Youth Day in the summer of 1993, he pledged that the Catholic Church would get serious about addressing the crisis of clergy sexual abuse.

Two popes and a quarter century later, that pledge is coming to fruition here thanks to plan worked out between the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the state’s Catholic dioceses that brings some measure of closure and financial relief to victims.

A report released Wednesday concluded that 43 priests abused 166 victims in the state over the last seven decades. Additional victims may still come forward before the deadlines for qualifying for compensation, Nov. 30 online, or Jan 31, 2020 by mail.

The attorney general’s report stated that at least nine additional priests sexually abused youth in the state, but because they worked for religious orders instead of dioceses, they were not covered in the investigation’s mandate.

One priest stands out in the Special Master’s Report on “Roman Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children in Colorado from 1950 to 2019.”

The Rev. Harold Robert White served in six Colorado parishes, including Colorado Springs, over a span of two decades, sexually abusing at least 63 victims in hundreds of separate incidents.

The worst offender

“White was the most prolific known clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” said the report, which devotes 56 of its 251 pages to documenting White’s abuse of children and young people in his care.

White, who died in 2006, was a sex offender before he was ordained in 1960, and he continued offending after he began serving at St. Catherine of Sienna Parish and Holy Family School in Denver.

The depictions of White’s repeated abuse are disgusting, but what’s heartbreaking for both victims and many Catholic faithful is the church’s utter failure to address or halt his crimes.

Instead of disciplining, monitoring, or controlling him, church officials in Denver simply transferred him to other dioceses, often without any warnings about his criminal behavior.

“This one priest’s career and the Denver Archdiocese’s management of it present a microcosm of virtually all the failures we found elsewhere in our review of the Colorado dioceses’ child sex abuse history, concluded the report.

“The Denver Archdiocese knew from the outset of White’s career that he was a child sex abuser. When he had sexually abused enough children at a parish that scandal threatened to erupt, the Denver Archdiocese moved him to a new one geographically distant enough that White was not known there. The Denver Archdiocese repeated this cycle at least six times and never once restricted his ministry, removed him from ministry, or sent him off for genuine psychiatric evaluation and care.”

White’s trail of abuse

White’s assignment in Colorado Springs, which did not become a diocese until 1984, involved his service as a teacher at St. Mary’s High School and a priest at St. Mary’s Church.

At St. Mary’s High School, White preyed on five victims at least 15 times from 1963 to 1965 before he was packed off to St. Anthony Parish and school in Sterling.

After that, White abused more youths at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Parish in Loveland, St. Patrick Catholic Church in Minturn, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Redcliff, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen.

The Denver Archdiocese finally removed White from the ministry in 1993. He was laicized in 2004, which means he lost his legal status as a priest. The Catholic Church teaches that ordination is a permanent, ontological change than can never be reversed.

White had already abused 20 young people by the time he arrived at St. Mary’s High School, already well practiced in selecting and grooming his victims, fooling their parents and avoiding the consequences of his actions.

He abused boys on camping trips, after a Christmas Mass and in church hallways. A rare female victim was only seven years old. The report says that White forced her to insert a ruler into her vagina and touch his penis.

The abuse continued while White served in Colorado Springs:

Victim 21 was a 15-year-old student when White fondled and masturbated on him on a camping trip and while teaching him to drive a car.

Victim 22 was a 14-year-old boy whom White fondled in a car on the way back from a movie.

Victim 23 was a sophomore at St. Mary’s. White groomed the boy by taking him skiing and flying, and giving him special attention in class. He fondled the boy on at least six separate occasions, continuing through the student’s junior year.

After the student reported the abuse to the school’s head religious sister, she told him, “You’ll be fine,” but the boy was not allowed to complete his senior year at the school.

White fondled victim 24, a St. Mary’s freshman, at least once.

And he fondled and masturbated victim 25, a sophomore, at least five times in the St. Mary’s Church basement restroom.

The report listed a number of failures by the Colorado Springs diocese, including problems with data collection, investigative processes, record-keeping, and training. The diocese has agreed to make all recommended changes.

Combating self-protection

The attorney general’s report “confirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s long history of silence, self-protection, and secrecy empowered by euphemism.”

Now, the Rev. Jim Baron, pastor Holy Apostles Church, welcomes the opportunity to bring priestly abuse out of the dark and into the light.

“When we first learned that the dioceses and the attorney general would work together on this project, I recorded a video and posted it on our church’s website saying that this needs to happen, this a great and very proactive thing to do,” said Baron.

Baron read the 251-page report Thursday. On Friday, he recorded a new video for the church’s website, and he said he planned to discuss the report at Mass on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

“It is heartbreaking to see anybody being the victim of any form of evil like this,” he said.

“And as a priest, it is very frustrating to see how such a tiny percent of evil men are misrepresenting all of us.

“The reality of these things needs to be brought to light. Unless they are, there is no chance for healing or moving forward.”

Link for victims who want to apply for compensation:

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