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Colorado priest cleared of criminal charges, reinstated into church service

Following the conclusion of a police investigation into an allegations of child sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of Denver has closed its own internal review of the claims made against Rev. Michael O'Brien and found them "baseless" and "false."

O'Brien was accused in September 2021 of sexual assault. He was immediately placed on administrative leave by the Archdiocese.

Now exonerated by the police and the church, O'Brien will return to St. Anthony of Padua in Julesburg and St. Peter's Catholic Church in Crook as the Pastor on July 1st. O'Brien had been with those churches only a short time before he was placed on leave. 

"I will not let irresponsible and unfounded civil lawsuits keep a good priest from ministry," Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila stated in a press release. "His fortitude in the face of a false accusation has been inspiring to me and to the other priests in the Archdiocese who unfortunately have to live in fear of a false charge like this impacting or even destroying their vocation and good name."

Rev. Michael O'Brien Archdiocese of Denver

The accusations brought in 2021 stemmed from O'Brien's time at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Aspen. O'Brien served there as pastor from May 2002 to June 2011, according to the Aspen Times

The Aspen Police Department and the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office exonerated O'Brien in April, according to the Archdiocese.

Don Nottingham, Chief Deputy District Attorney for the 9th Judicial District, provided this statement: 

The allegations of sexual assault committed by Father O'Brien were thoroughly investigated by the Aspen Police Department. The Office of the District Attorney for the Ninth Judicial District consulted with APD and was present for parts of the investigation. Both the D.A.'s Office and APD felt that such allegations should be investigated as thoroughly as possible, and APD did exactly that. The D.A.'s Office, upon reviewing all the information available, agreed with APD that no charges should be filed related to the allegations. The D.A.'s Office is grateful to the dedicated investigators at the Aspen Police Department for taking this investigation extremely seriously and working diligently to ensure the truth was known.

According to the Archdiocese, the Aspen Police Department put over 500 hours into this case, speaking to over 80 witnesses and 26 law enforcement agencies.

A civil lawsuit borne of the same allegations against O'Brien is still in the courts. It was filed in December 2021 by Keegan Callahan. According to the Aspen Times, Callahan claims in that lawsuit that he was sexually assaulted more than 300 times by Rev. O'Brien while Callahan was an altar boy at St. Mary Catholic Church on Main Street. Callahan also accused O'Brien of beating him when Callahan declined to accede to the pastor's sexual demands. 

In a letter to the Julesburg and Crook parishes, Archbishop Aquila wrote, "I have been advised by the Review Board and by our attorneys that the lawsuit is frivolous, and the claims are spurious."

Callahan is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence in the Colorado Department of Corrections. He was convicted of sexual assault, assault-strangulation, sexual exploitation of a child, and providing alcohol to a minor in three separate Pitkin County cases. The sentences were handed down in 2019.  

Colorado Department of Corrections

Fr. O'Brien denied Callahan's allegations from the beginning. 

The civil lawsuit is scheduled for jury trial in Denver in December.

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