DENVER (CBS4) - An attorney who represents victims of sex abuse by Catholic priests called on Colorado legislators to drop the statute of limitations on such crimes on Wednesday. Jeff Anderson also presented names and photos of around 100 priests who served in Colorado who have been accused sex abuse.
One name on the list was now-former Jesuit Father Patrick O'Liddy. CBS4 featured him in a news story several years ago.
"Hi Rick Sallinger from Channel 4. We'd like to talk to you about why you left the priesthood."
In 2002, he was convicted of sexting with a minor. His picture is now on a board that was presented at a news conference in Denver. Several who said they were victims from different priests stood by as Anderson spoke.
"If a law would pass it would help survivors like Joe McGee who signed agreements for $10,000."
McGee was about 9 years old in Iliff, Colorado when he says he was abused. Father John Francis Stein was later convicted of taking indecent liberties with another minor boy.
"I am sorry to say my sex education comes from a Catholic priest at the hand of a Catholic priest," he told CBS4.
He said the statute of limitations needs to be dropped because he and others were so young when they were abused and couldn't have taken advantage of the laws then. It impacts both criminal and civil actions.
"For the first 50 years of my life I was in fatal fear that people would know I was abused by a priest," McGee said.
Recently the Denver Archdiocese opened its records and announced a fund to compensate victims. Attorneys for victims warn agreeing to that could jeopardize their right to sue.
The archdiocese responded to Wednesday's news conference with a statement saying in part:
"We are not in a position to comment on hypothetical legislation. In general, statute of limitations exist for a reason."
Full statement from the Archdiocese of Denver:
The archdiocese, more than any other institution, recognizes the importance of remaining vigilant and has gone to great lengths to continually strengthen and improve the policies and procedures we have in place to protect children over the last three decades. While the archdiocese is working to reconcile with the past and address historic allegations of abuse through the recently launched Independent Reparations and Reconciliation Program, it is objectively false for anyone to claim that children today are any less safe in the Archdiocese of Denver than other youth-serving institutions. It is also objectively false for anyone to claim that nothing has changed within the Archdiocese of Denver in the last 70 years with how we work to prevent, respond to, and report sexual abuse.
We are not in a position to comment on hypothetical legislation. In general, statute of limitations exist for a reason. We would hope that any proposed changes would be considered in a manner that is consistent and fair to everyone.
For now, we remain focused on our own efforts to support survivors. Importantly, the Independent Reparations and Reconciliation Program is administered independent from the archdiocese by nationally known mediators and is open to anyone sexually abused as a minor by a diocesan priest, no matter when the alleged abuse occurred and without regard for the statute of limitations. Victims' advocates and the hundreds of survivors who have participated in similar private settlement programs around the country view these programs as being better for survivors than lengthy and adversarial litigation. The archdiocese also initiated a similar program in 2006, that over 50 survivors participated in.
Archbishop Aquila is currently attending the semi-annual USCCB conference, but we will highlight some of his previous statements regarding these issues. These can be attributed directly to Archbishop Aquila.
VIGILANCE: "One of the important goals of this independent review was to determine whether our children are safe—whether there are diocesan priests in ministry with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. From his review, Mr. Troyer identified no diocesan priests in active ministry in the Archdiocese with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor. His report also found no substantiated reports of sexual abuse of minors by diocesan priests in the Archdiocese within the past 20 years. Consistent with every study of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church—over 85% of the reported cases examined by Mr. Troyer are from the 1970's or earlier. The last substantiated incident of abuse across all three dioceses was 1998 (and that priest is in prison and the case was handled properly by the Archdiocese). The horror of this abuse is something we must learn from, and for me it culminates in a single word: VIGILANCE.
Now we must learn from the suffering of the victims and never assume that we could not face another perpetrator in our midst. We, more than any organization in this country, know we must be vigilant."
THE SURVIVORS: "I want to start by addressing the courage of the survivors who have shared the stories of their abuse. As a result of the Attorney General and Church's shared efforts to have this issue investigated and a report published, several survivors have come forward for the first time and more are likely to come forward in the days ahead. We recognize how difficult it is for survivors of abuse to share their stories, and we thank all of you for your courage. If any survivor wishes to meet with me personally, my door is open. I have met with many survivors, and from these heart wrenching personal interactions, I know there are no words that I can say that will take away the pain. However, I want to be clear that on behalf of myself and the Church, I apologize for the pain and hurt that this abuse has caused, and for anytime the Church's leaders failed to prevent it from happening. I am sorry about this horrible history— but it is my promise to continue doing everything I can so it never happens again. My sincere hope is that this report provides some small measure of justice and healing.
As we all read about the abuse of the past, it is easy to become angry at the abusers and those who protected them, and deeply saddened at the damage these perpetrators inflicted on children. Indeed, two priests, Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie, account for over 60% of all the victims in the report. These two men devastated dozens of victims and their families. Fourteen years ago, in 2006, the Archdiocese of Denver established a program for victims of priests to come forward, and more than 50 victims came forward and received financial compensation. More have come forward since then. I commit to you through the independent compensation program jointly opened two weeks ago—by all three dioceses in Colorado—that we are here to help you if you were abused by one of these two priests or any other diocesan priest."
PREVENTION: "The Archdiocese believes strongly in the prevention and reporting policies we've implemented and strengthened since 1991, but we welcomed an independent review to identify any weaknesses or gaps that could be addressed. Since the Dallas Charter of 2002, we have trained 84,000 priests, deacons, employees and volunteers on how to identify signs of abuse or neglect and on their obligations as mandatory reporters. Every year, approximately 22,000 children are trained how to identify inappropriate conduct by adults and how they can report it. We require all priests to sign a sexual misconduct policy and attend training. It is efforts like these that make me grateful to our Office of Child and Youth Protection and the more than one hundred thousand lay Catholics that make our environments safe.
Importantly, Mr. Troyer found our safe environment training programs to be effective. But, given his experience and work on this project, he recommended that our investigation of reported abuse should be done by independent trained investigators and the process needs to be more victim-centered. We are committed to continuing to improve our response to anyone who comes forward to report sexual abuse as a minor, and specifically those that come forward when they are adults and their abusers were removed from ministry or died a long time ago. We know we have been able to help many people, but we will listen and learn from those who came forward and felt they weren't treated appropriately. Indeed, we will follow all of Mr. Troyer's recommendations and are already working to implement changes. I plan to personally be involved in that effort and will be in continued contact with Mr. Troyer and the Attorney General to make sure our collaboration to protect children is ongoing."
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