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Archbishop Aquila restores exonerated priest back into ministry

Internal investigation by Archdiocese of Denver finds no wrongdoing

DENVER – The Archdiocese of Denver’s internal investigation against Father Michael O’Brien finds no evidence of wrongdoing, and after receiving a recommendation from the Archdiocesan Review Board, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila is restoring Fr. O’Brien back into ministry, effective immediately.

The Aspen Police Department and the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office exonerated Fr. O’Brien in April of this year. Aspen Police put over 500 hours into this case to find the truth; speaking to over 80 witnesses and 26 law enforcement agencies. Aspen Police investigators determined the sexual abuse allegations against Fr. O’Brien during his time at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen were baseless and therefore they did not file any criminal charges. The Archdiocese’s internal review process is also now complete, and the matter is closed.

Although Fr. O’Brien is facing a lawsuit in civil court based on the same allegations, the Review Board and our attorneys advise us that the lawsuit is frivolous, and the claims are spurious. Archbishop Aquila says, “I will not let irresponsible and unfounded civil lawsuits keep a good priest from ministry.” Fr. 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 of this year.

Fr. O’Brien has shown great patience and faithfulness during this challenging time. Archbishop Aquila says, “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.”

The Archdiocese of Denver continues in our commitment to take all allegations of misconduct seriously, and to ensure that the safety of our children and families is and remains a priority for our Church. We will always cooperate with civil authorities, and we will adhere to the protocol set forth in our Code of Conduct.

Read Archbishop Aquila’s letter to the faithful regarding Father O’Brien’s re-instatement below:

To the faithful of St. Anthony of Padua and St. Peter,

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In April of this year, Fr. Dollins wrote to you to relay the important information that your
pastor, Fr. Michael O’Brien, had been exonerated by the Aspen Police Department and the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The police determined the allegations against Fr. O’Brien were baseless and the District Attorney closed the case.

Fr. Dollins also explained Fr. Michael would need to await the determination of the
Archdiocese’s internal process before he can return to ministry. I am writing to you to inform you that the Archdiocese’s internal investigation into this matter is now complete, and it has been established there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Fr. O’Brien. I have been advised by the Archdiocese of Denver Review Board to fully restore Fr. Michael’s priestly faculties, which upon receiving this advice I immediately did. The effect of this is that Fr. Michael is now able to resume his responsibilities as your pastor.

You may hear that Fr. Michael is still being sued in civil court based on the same allegations
the police and district attorney have found without any merit. I have been advised by the
Review Board and by our attorneys that the lawsuit is frivolous, and the claims are spurious.

For those in the parish and broader public who have been attending to the details of this
matter you know that the accuser here is a man serving 14 years in jail for terrible crimes
against young women. I will not let irresponsible and unfounded civil lawsuits keep a good
priest from ministry. Thus, I am happy to report to all of you that Fr. Michael will be
returning to St. Anthony and St. Peter as the Pastor on July 1st of this year.

The Archdiocese of Denver continues in our commitment to take all allegations of
misconduct seriously, and to ensure that the safety of our children and families is and
remains a priority for our Church. We will always cooperate with civil authorities, and we
will adhere to the protocol set forth in our Code of Conduct, which I assure you was
diligently followed in this case.

I want to express my gratitude to Fr. O’Brien for his patience and faithfulness during the
challenging 20-month period of waiting for this matter to conclude. 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. I urge you to embrace Fr. O’Brien as he returns to active ministry and share all of our respect for how he has handled this terrible, and ongoing, ordeal.

I want to thank all those who prayed for Fr. O’Brien and for the light of truth to shine forth.
Let us pray for peace and healing for all those involved, and for God’s grace to bless each one of us.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L.
Archbishop of Denver

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