Attorney General's Report into Clergy Abuse in Colorado Released, SNAP Responds
Today, the Colorado Attorney General released the results of his voluntary review of church records in Colorado. Unfortunately, absent subpoena power and the ability to compel testimony under oath, we are not confident that the attorney general was able to review the full scope of abuse and cover-up in Colorado.
According to this report, over the course of 70 years in Colorado, 166 children were abused by 43 priests. Our hearts ache for each one of these victims and their families. We hope that this report will now compel legislators in Colorado to take steps to institute legislative reform that can help prevent future cases of abuse and support survivors, such as reforming the statute of limitations laws that often bar survivors from bringing claims forward and exposing abusers and their enablers. At the same time, we doubt that these numbers represent the full scope of abuse in the state, especially given the revelations that church officials only reported abusers less than 10 times since 1950.
Colorado A.G. Phil Weiser’s review of clergy abuse was not a full investigation like those seen in Pennsylvania, Michigan, or New Jersey, but instead a review of files voluntarily handed over by church officials in Colorado. And based on what we have seen from those other investigations into institutional sexual abuse, we have no confidence that A.G. Weiser’s office was granted full access to all files and personnel records.
We know from Pennsylvania A.G. Josh Shapiro’s report from last year that there has been an institution-wide practice of cover-up when it comes to allegations of clergy abuse. More recent reports, such as the preliminary report by A.G. Lisa Madigan in Illinois or the McAfee and Taft Report into the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, also point to institutional policies designed to cover-up cases of clergy abuse by declining to investigate claims and destroying records related to allegations. It is difficult to believe that similar policies to minimize public knowledge about clergy abuse have not been used in Colorado, especially after learning that church officials took an average of 20 years to restrict the ministry of any priest that was accused of abuse.
The numbers contained within this report are also markedly lower than the numbers from other secular reports that have been released. According to SNAP’s research and using numbers from A.G. Shapiro’s report, in Pennsylvania there was a recorded average of one abuser for every 6,113 parishioners (and over time, as more victims came forward, that ratio has now become one abuser for every 5,460 parishioners). In Colorado, that average is one abuser for every 19,200 parishioners. Given that the USCCB’s own John Jay report has said that abuses and abusers are evenly spread throughout the country, we believe that this extremely high ratio indicates that there are likely more abusers in Colorado than identified in this report.
Now that this report has been released, we hope that A.G. Weiser will leave his online reporting form open and continue to publicize it so that other victims, who may be compelled to come forward later, will have a place to turn and report their abuse. In Pennsylvania, 1,800 additional victims came forward following the release of A.G. Shapiro’s report. We suspect the same would be true in Colorado.
Finally, we know that the release of this report will likely be challenging for survivors and their loved ones. We hope that those survivors can turn to independent therapists, close friends and family, support groups like ours, or other secular sources for support and healing. And we hope that anyone who still has knowledge or suspicions about cases of clergy abuse in Colorado will be inspired by this news to come forward and make a report to law enforcement today.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)