Colorado Catholic dioceses submit to voluntary sex abuse review

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski) From front to back, Samuel Aquila, archbishop of the Denver diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, the Very Rev. Randy Dollins, vicar general, and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser listen about the plan to have a former federal prosecutor review the sexual abuse files of Colorado's Roman Catholic dioceses at a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Denver. The church will pay reparations to victims under a voluntary joint effort with the state attorney general.

Denver • A former federal prosecutor will review the sexual abuse files of Colorado’s Roman Catholic dioceses, and the church has agreed to pay an unlimited amount of reparations to victims under a voluntary joint effort undertaken with the help of the state attorney general.

The collaborative process announced Tuesday by Attorney General Phil Weiser and Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila is partly the result of the limits of the Colorado attorney general’s power and the local church’s confidence that it has been proactive in dealing with accusations of abuse since the clergy sex abuse crisis exploded in Boston nearly 20 years ago.

Aquila said the church and the state had the same mission — to seek justice and healing for victims of abuse and provide accountability and transparency, including letting more people know about the steps the church has taken since 2002.

“We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this matter and that there are no priests currently in active ministry under investigation,” he said at a joint news conference.

The Colorado attorney general does not have the power to convene a grand jury to investigate the church as the Pennsylvania attorney general did. But the names of all priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse in the dioceses of Denver, Pueblo and Colorado Springs from 1950 to the present will be published in a report by former Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer expected by the fall, Weiser said.

Weiser, a Democrat who took office last month, said any failures of the church to cooperate in the review would be noted in the report, as would any allegations of sexual abuse that have not been previously reported to law enforcement. Troyer will also have the power to conduct interviews as part of the review.

Jeb Barrett, of the local chapter of the victims’ advocacy group SNAP, said he was pleased there would be a review. But he said the group would watch to see if the final report includes the priests it has found to have abused children in the past.

In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury alleged that more than 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over seven decades there. Since then, dioceses in more two dozen states around the country have released the names of priests accused of abuse.

In December, the Diocese of Salt Lake City released a report naming 19 Catholic leaders in Utah against whom “credible allegations of sexual abuse involving minors” had been received since 1950.

The Colorado review will not be paid for with tax dollars. Half the cost will be covered by the church and half by anonymous donors who were solicited by former state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who started working with the Colorado church on how to respond to the revelations in Pennsylvania before leaving office last month.

Coffman, a Republican, said the church did not want a review paid for with state dollars because that could lead to personal information, like psychological reviews of victims, becoming public records, a concern she shared. The donors were people willing to give money and walk away, leaving the review to run its course, she said.

The compensation process will be led by Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw victims’ compensation for the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and the Sept. 11 attacks, and overseen by a board chaired by former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown.

Under the plan, there is no set pool of money set aside in advance. The amount paid out will be determined by Feinberg’s team, and the church cannot appeal those decisions. However, victims can decide whether or not to accept the award. Victims who accepted an award would give up their right to sue the church.

Although the church does not believe there has been any significant cases of abuse since 2002, Coffman said it would be surprising if that is what the review found.

“That would be great,” she said. “But we would be different from any other state if that was the outcome.”

The Salt Lake Tribune contributed to this story.