Denver Archdiocese Settles Priest Sex-abuse case

Attorney Jeff Anderson. Picture by Chris Sneider

Attorney Jeff Anderson, center, stands in front of attorneys, victims and their family members as he holds a photo of Pastor Harold White as he announces a settlement for 12 victims of sexual abuse by clergy with the Denver Archdiocese in Denver, Colo., on Tuesday.

by Alan Gathright and Jean torkelson Rocky Mountain News

The archdiocese of Denver has agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of sexual abuse against its priests in incidents that happened between 1954 and 1981.

The settlement of the lawsuits and claims leaves just two cases remaining against the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput said this morning.

All but one of the 18 claims involved two priests – Harold Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie.

The other involves Lawrence St. Peter. All three men have since died.

Chaput noted that as part of the settlement a portion of White’s file was given to the plaintiffs. 

He also noted that “the files show that prior to 1981, White engaged in wrongful behavior.

“After 1981, White’s files contain no evidence of abuse by him,” Chaput said, adding that District Judge Richard Dana “has confirmed this fact to the satisfaction of the plaintiffs attorneys.”

The archbishop said it was a very unusual step to open up the personnel files for Robert White, “but we took the step at insistence of some of the victims to help with their healing.”

Chaput went on to say, “I wanted to apologize personally and express my own personal sadness.”

Funds for the settlement came from the archdiocese’s assets, and not from contributions made to the archdiocese’s Catholic Appeal program, he noted.

The total amount paid out by the Denver archdiocese to settle claims of sexual abuse by priests now stands at $8 million, Chaput said.

The archdiocese did not have to sell any real estate, Chaput said, but the payout likely will have an impact on some programs.

“It’s right that we do this,” Chaput said.

Fourteen of the men and women in today’s settlement were victims of “horrific child sex crimes by predatory priests and cover ups by church officials,” according to a statement issued by Denver attorney Thomas Roberts and St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson.

The attorneys said they believe dozens of abuse victims are still “suffering in silence” in Colorado.

A dozen people claimed they were molested by White. He and the archdiocese were sued in 2005.

Lawyers for the victims claim that records show that church officials knew of suspicious and illegal conduct by White as early as the 1960s, but continued to move him to different churches around Colorado. He worked in 11 parishes over 33 years and has been out of active ministry since 1993, according to the attorneys’ statement.

“They moved White around after reports of abuse… from Denver to Loveland to Minturn to Aspen to Steamboat to Colorado Springs to Grand Lake,” Anderson said.

“I had eight different parishes where he (allegedly) abused,” the attorney said. “It’s ugly, but now we have this settlement.”

In January 2007, 10 lawsuits against White were settled.

The settlement includes one allegation of abuse each against the Rev. Leonard Abercrombie and Monsignor Lawrence St. Peter.

In addition to being a parish priest, Abercrombie was also an Air Force chaplain and Veterans Administration chaplain, the attorneys’ statement said. At least nine men allege he abused them as children.

White, a defrocked priest, was 73 when he died in November 2006 of an apparent heart attack while vacationing in Mexico. Abercrombie died in 1994.

St. Peter, who has never been publicly accused of child molestation, died in 2003.

Anderson said the attorneys filed a claim against the church alleging abuse by St. Peter and reached the settlement without having to file a lawsuit.

St. Peter was so respected by fellow priests, they selected him to serve as interim head of the diocese for three months in 1986 following the death of Archbishop James Casey, according to a 2003 obituary in the Rocky Mountain News.

St. Peter, who served as pastor of Mother of God Catholic Church and Church of the Risen Christ in Denver, left Colorado in 1993 for alcoholism treatment at a substance abuse center.

The monsignor retired from the priesthood at the time to live in Washington, D.C., but he returned to Denver about 1999 and continued to volunteer at Queen of Peace’s shelter on East Colfax Avenue.

Editor’s note: Previous versions of this story referred to 14 claims of abuse, with settlements totaling $4.5 million. Additional cases have also been settled.