Once Beloved Colorado Priest Among Newly Identified Clerical Abusers

The archdiocese said it took part in the investigation “so that any survivor who had not previously come forward would be encouraged to do so in a safe and protected process “

Msgr. Charles Woodrich.
Msgr. Charles Woodrich. (photo: Roxanne King)

DENVER, Colo. — Investigation into the history of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Colorado has found nine diocesan priests with “substantiated” sexual abuse allegations involving 70 more underage victims. Those priests come in addition to 43 abusers already identified in a 2019 report. The newly known abusers include a Denver priest who was a prominent advocate for the homeless.

A report on clerical abuse in Colorado was released Dec. 1 as a supplement to an October 2019 report on the history of clerical sexual abuse in the state.

“We hope and pray that this independent review and reparations process over the last two years has provided a measure of justice and healing for the survivors who came forward and shared their stories,” the Catholic bishops of Colorado said in a joint statement Dec. 1.

“We remain heart-broken by the pain they have endured, we again offer our deepest apologies for the past failures of the Church, and we promise that we will always pray for continued healing for them and their families.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Bishop Stephen Berg of Pueblo and Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver said they continue to be willing “to meet personally with survivors when they make the request.”

They pledged to “continue to work with and support anyone who comes forward.”

“We also hope that this process has demonstrated our commitment to continuing to enhance and strengthen our child-protection policies so that the sins of the past do not repeat themselves,” said the Colorado bishops.

None of the newly named priests are still in ministry. At least six of the men newly accused of abuse have died. The latest report also contains new substantiated accusations against another 16 previously known abusers.

The 93-page report from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office supplements a previous October 2019 report in a 22-month investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer.

The supplemental investigation concerns victims who made claims to the attorney general’s office or to an independent reparation and reconciliation program for the three dioceses in Colorado. It does not include victims who reported only to a diocese directly, nor does it include allegations against clergy in religious orders, church volunteers or other employees. Some victims who spoke to the reparation and reconciliation program decided not to speak for inclusion in the supplemental investigation.

Attorney General Phil Weiser said Dec. 1 that the program’s goals were “to support and comfort survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and to bring meaningful change to how the Colorado dioceses protect children from sexual abuse.”

“It takes incredible fortitude for victims of sexual abuse to come forward and tell their stories, and they are the heroes of this effort,” he said

The most prominent priest named in the latest report is Father Charles Woodrich, known as Father Woody, an outspoken advocate for the homeless of Denver. After he died in 1991 the Denver Catholic Register, which he had previously served as editor, called him “Denver’s patron saint of the hungry and homeless.”

He famously opened up the doors of his downtown parish, the beautiful Holy Ghost Church, to the homeless during cold winter nights. He would routinely give his friends on the street the coats off his back and the cash in his pockets.

Three victims alleged grooming behavior and sexual assault by him as far back as 1976, beginning at ages as young as 12. The Denver archdiocese received the allegations earlier this year through the reparations program and reported them to law enforcement.

Fr.Woodrich helped to found the Samaritan House homeless shelter and the Haven of Hope to provide hot meals and shelters for the homeless. Samaritan House, now run by Catholic Charities of Denver. Last year it served 1,405 men, women and children, providing over 80,000 nights of shelter and over 466,000 meals.

The priest also established school lunch programs for poor children. The name “Father Woody” had become synonymous with charity in the Denver community. He was the namesake of a popular Christmas party for the homeless and a service program at Regis University was named for him. A university spokesman told the Denver Post that the program will be renamed in honor of Jesuit priest St. John Francis Regis.

The latest report means that the number of diocesan clergy known to be abusive now numbers 52, with 212 victims. Several children were younger than 10. While abusers sometimes had more than one known victim, particularly dangerous was Father Harold White. The priest abused 70 known victims from 1958 to 1981. He was laicized in 2004.

Most abuse happened in the 1960s. All known instances of abuse took place between 1951 and 1999. However, more than half of the victims were abused after church leaders knew of allegations

The latest report identified Father James Moreno as another Denver archdiocese priest who sexually abused a teen boy dozens of times from 1978 to 1980. In late 2019 he admitted to abusing the victim, whom he had met through Denver Catholic schools. Moreno retired 6 years ago, but currently faces a canonical process to be removed from the priesthood. The attorney general’s report erroneously said that Moreno retired 16 years ago.

Other Denver archdiocese priests named for the first time were Kenneth Funk, Daniel Kelleher, and Gregory Smith. There were 138 diocesan priests in the archdiocese in 1950. Their numbers peaked at 215 in 1976, and are at similar numbers today. No new allegations concerned priests of the Colorado Springs diocese, which was founded in 1983.

The newly named Pueblo diocesan priests are Marvin Kapushion, Duane Repola, Carlos Trujillo and Joseph Walsh. Kapushion and Walsh worked as counselors at the Sacred Heart and abused children there. The two known victims of Walsh were aged 4 and 7 when their abuse began. The number of diocesan priests in the Pueblo diocese peaked at 83 in 1966, and they currently number 52.

Among the newly reported incidents, only one was not reported to law enforcement as required by law in 2006, when the victim first came forward. At the same time, among the new incidents 16 of the 46 newly reported victims had been abused after the diocese had been informed that the priest was a sexual abuser.

Troyer, the author of the supplemental report, said that the incidents “provide further evidence that historically the dioceses enabled clergy child sexual abuse by transferring abusive priests to new parishes; taking no action to restrict their ministry or access to children; concealing the priests’ behavior with secrecy, euphemism and lack of documentation; silencing victims; and not reporting the abuse to law enforcement.”

The bishops took encouragement that there have been no known incidents of child abuse in over 20 years, with “over 90 percent of the known incidents occurring 40 to 60 years ago.”

However, many sexual abuse victims take decades before coming forward, leaving open the possibility that reports about more recent situations could come to light..

Troyer’s October 2019 report had said the dioceses’ poor records and flawed practices made it impossible to know whether there had been any abuse in recent years.

Weiser, the attorney general, said he was pleased that the Colorado dioceses implemented “every recommendation” of the first report, with reforms that are apparently “meaningful and sound.”

“But as the report points out, these improvements are untested at this point in time, and it will be up to the church to ensure it is creating an environment that is as safe as possible for children now and in the future,” he said.

The state’s Catholic bishops said that following the recommendations strengthened policies, adding “we believe Catholics and the general public can feel confident that the Church is an extremely safe environment for children.”

“We agree with the Attorney General that other youth-serving institutions could consider using a similar public review and reparations program to address this issue,” they said.

In a separate statement regarding Woodrich and other priests, the Denver archdiocese said: “for Catholics, learning about the past sins of former priests has been extremely difficult, especially when the priest was well-known and respected.”

“For any priest that has been named in the initial report or supplemental report, the archdiocese has removed that priest’s name from any honorary designation including buildings, facilities, and programs,” it continued.

“It is important to note that the ministerial work of the Church is the work of Jesus Christ, not the work of a specific priest. Any employee or volunteer who has participated in the work of Christ in serving others should not feel that their work has in any way been diminished.”

The archdiocese said it took part in the investigation “so that any survivor who had not previously come forward would be encouraged to do so in a safe and protected process “

“We are grateful for everyone who bravely shared their stories, and we pray this process provided survivors with a measure of justice and healing,” said its statement.

The first report, issued in October 2019, examined the archives and personnel files of Colorado’s dioceses dating back 70 years.

Father Lawrence St. Peter is among other priests credibly accused of abuse. He became apostolic administrator of the Denver archdiocese in 1986 after the death of Archbishop James Casey, before future cardinal James Stafford took office. In his role as apostolic administrator and his previous role as vicar for clergy, he had access to personnel files.

The Colorado attorney general’s 2019 report on diocesan clergy sexual abuse said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” to confirm rumors that he used his access to destroy incriminating documents. The report cited a lack of abuse allegations and an absence of records of psychological treatment. The archdiocesan file lacked discussions of his “alcohol problems” and “homosexuality problems,” even though these were known by others in close contact with him.

Another prominent priest, the late Father James Beno, was a politician-priest who served in the state Senate for two terms from 1978-1986 as a Democrat from Pueblo. The reports indicate he was accused of sexually abusing at least four female victims from 1961 to 1974. One victim was as young as five years old, while another victim was a high school junior when the priest allegedly raped her.

As of Oct. 19, the three dioceses’ reparations and reconciliation program announced that $6.68 million had been paid to 73 victims of clerical abuse who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

Denver’s Archbishop Aquila has previously invited Catholics to offer prayers and fasting for victims of sexual abuse on the first Friday of Lent.