Table of Contents
Types of Abuse
Why Sexual Abuse is So Prevalent in the Catholic Church
Colorado Priests Who Have Been Accused
Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act
Contact a Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyer
Child sexual abuse encompasses any type of sexual activity with a child. Within the church, priests and clergy members may use a process called “grooming” to begin an abusive relationship with a child or adolescent.
Grooming is the process of building a relationship with a potential victim through manipulation. The abuser will establish trust or an emotional connection with the potential victim in order to exploit the relationship later. Grooming generally involves three steps:
Identifying potential victims
Priests and clergy members build close relationships with their parishioners. Predators exploit these relationships and identify vulnerable children and adolescents as targets of abuse.
Parishioners may entrust a priest or clergy member with their children for tutoring, mentorship, or counseling. Predators can isolate their victims under these guises.
Controlling and concealing the relationship
Using authority and status, predators can maintain the relationship, continue the abuse, and keep victims from disclosing the abuse.
Once a priest or clergy member establishes a relationship, abuse will generally occur in the form of contact abuse or non-contact abuse.
Contact abuse is physical contact between an adult and a child. Types of contact abuse may include, but are not limited to:
Non-contact abuse is abuse that does not involve physical contact from the abuser. Forms of non-contact abuse include, but are not limited to:
Click here for more information about different types of sexual violence, assault, and abuse.
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Multiple causes may contribute to the prevalence of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. A few potential causes include, but are not limited to:
Antiquated Sexual Norms
Some people believe that the Church’s history of clerical celibacy may contribute to the prevalence of sexual abuse within the Church. The Church expects clergy members to live unmarried and celibate. Some theorize priests are psychologically immature due to celibacy starting at a young age. Due to this sexual immaturity, they target children or adolescents for abuse.
Additionally, some believe an all-male priesthood has fostered an environment of abuse, while a more prominent female presence may have advocated for more safety measures.
Domination and Fear
Priests and clergy members may use position, authority, and fear to intimidate their victims from disclosing abuse. They could also use subtle manipulation or threats to silence their victims. Victims may avoid reporting the behavior, fearing that their community will not believe them or even retaliate against them. Priests have significant power in their communities. Parishioners view them as trusted individuals with authority from God.
Pedophilia and Ephebophilia
The Catholic Church has allowed pedophilia (sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children) and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to pubescent and post-pubescent adolescents) to foster within its hierarchy. A John Jay report, released in 2011, found that approximately four percent of Catholic priest abusers are pedophiles, and 24 percent are ephebophiles. The study found that most offenders do not strictly fall into one category because they abuse victims of different ages and sexes.
More than 50 priests within Colorado dioceses have had sexual abuse allegations lodged against them. Three of these priests include Father Michael O’Brien, Father James Moreno, and Father Charles Woodrich.
Father Michael O’Brien was ordained in 2000 and served in multiple parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver. He is currently facing a lawsuit against him for sexual abuse of a minor between 2004 and 2008 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen. The survivor said O’Brien assaulted him approximately 300 times and physically punished him if he declined O’Brien. The lawsuit also accuses St. Mary’s and the Archdiocese of Denver of negligence in employing and keeping O’Brien.
Father James Moreno, ordained in 1976, served in multiple parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver. The Colorado Attorney General’s Office released his name in a supplemental investigative report in 2020. The report identified one unnamed survivor who had suffered at least 60 counts of sexual abuse from Moreno between 1978 and 1980. Moreno, still living, admitted to the abuse in December 2019.
Moreno is currently facing a lawsuit against him for sexual abuse of a minor between 1978 and 1982. The survivor said Moreno sexually abused him hundreds of times. The lawsuit also states that the Archdiocese of Denver knew about the abuse and actively concealed it.
Father Charles “Woody” Woodrich, known as Father Woody, was ordained in 1953 and served in multiple parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver. Woodrich was well-known in the community for helping the poor and the homeless. The Colorado Attorney General’s Office released Woodrich’s name in its 2020 report.
Three survivors have come forward against Woodrich. The report stated that Woodrich groomed and sexually abused his victims between 1976 and 1989. One survivor said Woodrich assaulted him once or twice per month between 1983 and 1989. Woodrich died in 1991.
Click here to view the full list of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse in Denver, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs.
Many dioceses have perpetuated child sexual abuse for decades by covering it up. In 2019, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office released a report after an independent investigation into child sexual abuse in the Colorado dioceses from 1950 to 2019.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office found several ways the dioceses covered up abuse, including purging records, transferring priests, and understating abuse.
Purging Sexual Predator Records
The report stated that in some instances up until the early 1990s, Colorado dioceses purged records of child sex abuse allegations against their priests. In other cases, the dioceses intentionally left out allegations of sex abuse.
The report noted many examples of “priest shuffling” or moving priests to other parishes. A diocese would transfer a priest to another parish when it was on notice that a priest was sexually abusing children. Along with priest shuffling, dioceses would cover up abuse by placing priests on periods of leave for health or medical reasons.
Understating Abuse as Simple “Boundary Violations”
Another way that dioceses have perpetuated abuse is by understating the abuse that has taken place. The Colorado dioceses have intentionally used obscure language in their records to hide abuse. For example, rather than document the abuse, records show that abuse has been covered up by understating it as a “boundary violation.” In other cases, legislators found that the dioceses have used language such as “boy troubles” or “nervousness” to excuse the priests’ misconduct.
Did you or a loved one suffer sexual abuse from a Colorado Catholic diocese priest or clergy member? If so, you have the legal right to seek justice and accountability for the abuse. Even if the sexual abuse happened decades ago, you may be able to file a Catholic priest abuse lawsuit.
Colorado Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act
In 2021, Colorado passed the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act. This key legislation allows survivors of child sexual abuse to seek justice without a statute of limitations or a deadline for filing a lawsuit. The act applies to abuse that occurred between January 1, 1960 and January 1, 2022. Victims may file a lawsuit before January 1, 2025. Individuals abused on or after January 1, 2022 are not subject to time limitation for bringing a suit.
The “Look Back” Window
The Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act also provides a “look back” window or retroactive window for survivors. The look back window applies to child sexual abuse between January 1, 1960, and January 1, 2022. Survivors have three years from January 1, 2022 to seek legal action against an abuser or institution. This window closes on December 31, 2024.
The Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act is significant because it strengthens the rights of child sexual abuse survivors. It allows future accusations by removing the limitations on seeking justice. Additionally, institutions like the Catholic Church and its clergy members can no longer hide behind a statute of limitations.
Click here to read our blog providing more details about Colorado’s Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act.
Your choice today could be your first step towards justice, closure, and peace. If you or someone you love has been a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault, call Zaner Harden Law for a free and confidential consultation at (720) 613-9706, or complete our online case evaluation form and we’ll reach out to you.
We know a lawsuit won’t erase the trauma you’ve endured, but it can hold accountable the criminals and institutions that allowed these crimes to continue.
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