Editorial: Review of Catholic Church in Colorado is miserably weak

The Colorado attorney general and Catholic Church last month announced an agreement that established an inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy. This is Colorado's contribution to a broader search for truth that's occurring in states across the country. In some states, law enforcement officials are aggressively pursuing relevant information, but that's not happening in Colorado. In fact, the terms of the agreement are so favorable to the church and so incommensurate to the gravity of crimes uncovered in numerous other dioceses that it's doubtful to result in an honest account of abuses that took place in Colorado.

The agreement between Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and the state's three archdioceses sets up an "independent review" conducted by a so-called special master, a position that was assigned to former Colorado U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer. Troyer is charged with reviewing diocesan files and records, which the church has agreed to make available for the review, and he's supposed to complete by Oct. 1 a report that describes substantiated allegations of abuse.

The shortcomings of the arrangement are numerous.

First, the "independent review" is not altogether independent. In the language of the agreement itself the review was established "in the spirit of compromise and cooperation." That's the opposite of independent. Troyer will be required to meet with church representatives at least once a month to update them on his progress. Before he issues his final report, Troyer must submit a draft of the document to the church, whose officials will have the opportunity to suggest changes. An investigatory entity that consults with the subject of its investigation and grants the subject influence over findings cannot claim impartiality.

The agreement is miserably weak on compliance. It says Troyer will have unfettered access to all relevant church files and records, but he will not have subpoena power. And the church is entitled to withhold documents it deems "privileged," such as attorney-client communications and "work product." It's not clear that the church, at least within the scope of the agreement, would suffer any repercussions were it to keep secret those documents that Troyer is entitled to see. And anyway the terms give the church the right, upon written notice, to walk away from the agreement whenever it wants.

The agreement is full of loopholes. The most glaring is that it applies only to diocesan clergy while excluding religious-order clergy. Jesuit and Franciscan clergy, for example, are not included. As noted in a recent Denver Post story, nine of 28 priests and brothers — roughly a third — who during the last 70 years have been publicly accused of sexually abusing children are non-diocesan priests. That's a big blind spot. Another is that, absent additional evidence, the review will dismiss any allegation if it was made after the accused priest died. That creates enormous potential for credible allegations to be disqualified, given that the review period goes back to 1950.

It's useful to recall why we're talking about an inquiry into the Catholic Church in the first place. The church virtually everywhere it has ministered across the globe has seen its clergy accused of sexual abuse against minors, as has been revealed since at least 2002, when the Boston Globe in a series of stories exposed not only abusi...

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