Church Abuse Colorado

Samuel Aquila, archbishop of the Denver Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, front, looks on at a news conference in Denver in 2019.

Seventy-three people who were sexually abused by members of the Catholic clergy have received reparation payments totaling $6.7 million from a church-funded program, officials said Friday.

The Independent Reconciliation and Reparation Program was created in February 2019, several months before the Colorado Attorney General's Office released a sweeping review of clergy abuse in the state.

That report, which examined more than 700 members of the clergy going back to 1950, found 166 children had been abused by 43 priests across the state. The most recent case of abuse identified was in 1998; two-thirds of the misconduct took place in the 1960s and 1970s.

The effort was led by former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer, who was tapped in February 2019.

As the initial report was prepared for release, the Archdiocese of Denver, together with the Colorado Springs and Pueblo dioceses, announced they would fund an unlimited reparations program to pay victims.

According to a news release Friday from the diocese and from the program's oversight committee, 98 people filed claims; 81 of them were deemed eligible and 73 have been paid so far. The remaining eight who are eligible for reparations are in the process of being paid out; have not responded to compensation offers; or their claims are "deficient" and are awaiting law enforcement notification.

Mark Haas, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that to participate in the programs, victims have to first file a report with law enforcement.

"Of the 81 eligible claimants, some were previously unknown abuse survivors, demonstrating (the program's) success in reaching survivors previously unwilling or unable to come forward and receive help," the program's administrators, Camille Biros and Kenneth R. Feinberg, said in a statement.

Feinberg was involved in compensating victims after the Aurora theater shooting in July 2012 and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The two administrators determined the amount to be paid out to victims. The program is overseen by an independent committee, led by former Sen. Hank Brown.

The committee and administrators' work is expected to be completed by mid-November.

In a separate release, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila reiterated his offer to meet with any victim who requested a sit-down. He called the review of clergy abuse in Colorado "a spotlight on a horrifying chapter in our history."

"Please know, on behalf of myself and the Church, I am deeply sorry for the pain and hurt that was caused by the abuse you suffered," Aquila wrote. "And to those survivors who still have not come forward: While the claims period to seek help through the reparations program is now closed, the ability to seek help and support from the Archdiocese remains open."

Aquila added that no abuse has been reported the past 20 years, which he said was proof that training and improved procedures had been effective.

But the report cautioned against concluding that abuse had ended, and a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said an update to the report was expected in November after additional information gathered by investigators.

"Concluding from this report that clergy child sex abuse is ‘solved’ is inaccurate and will only lead to complacency, which will in turn put more children at risk of sexual abuse,” the authors wrote.

Colorado is far from the only state that has met head-on its history of Catholic clergy abuse.

In Wyoming, a similar investigation was concluded in June 2019. That review substantiated claims against 11 clerics, including retired Bishop Joseph Hart, who led the Catholic flock in Wyoming from 1978 until his retirement in 2001.

Though Hart's abuse was alleged to have begun in the early 1960s and extended through at least the 1980s, Wyoming has no statute of limitations. As a result, law enforcement conducted a 16-month investigation into the 89-year-old.

In August 2019, police recommended he be charged with sexual abuse and turned the case over to prosecutors, who in June decided not to proceed.

Beyond Wyoming, similar investigations are underway or have been completed in 22 states. One of the first was an investigation conducted by a grand jury in Pennsylvania, which found that more than 1,000 children had been abused by more than 300 priests beginning in the early 1940s.

Church officials there have paid out more than $84 million to victims as of December.

Colorado Politics reporter Michael Karlik contributed to this report.

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