Independent Review and Report FAQ

Denver Catholic Staff

This FAQ is intended to be a brief summary of the Independent Review and its published report specific to the Archdiocese of Denver. The full report and a more detailed FAQ are available at archden.org/promise. 

What was the Independent Review?

Former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer was given access to 70 years of diocesan files concerning the sexual abuse of minors by diocesan priests—including the so-called “secret archive” files—and the opportunity to interview survivors, priests, and other witnesses. His report included an analysis of the diocese’s policies related to preventing and responding to sexual abuse of minors; the dioceses’ compliance with Colorado law requiring the mandatory reporting to law enforcement of abuse allegations; and a list of all diocesan priests that are the subject of one or more substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950.

Why did the Archdiocese agree to the Independent Review?

There were four goals: (1) To publicly acknowledge this history of sexual abuse, and in doing so provide a moment of justice for any survivor and encourage others to come forward; (2) To assure the Attorney General, public and members of the Archdiocese – clergy and laity – that no diocesan priest known to have sexually abused a minor is in active ministry; (3) To identify any needed improvements to our policies and procedures to ensure they are of the highest standard; (4) To allow the thousands of people who are working to make the Archdiocese a safe environment for children to see the progress of their work.

What did the Independent Review find for the Archdiocese of Denver?

The review identifies 21 diocesan and one extern priest who were responsible for 127 substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. For some context: within the Archdiocese of Denver, the most recent case was in 1998 and no substantiated allegations were found against any diocesan priest in active ministry. Nearly 90-percent of the known abuse happened more than 40 years ago (1950-1979 – see chart below). Over 60-percent of the abuse was committed by two former priests – H. Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie. And roughly 75-percent of the abuse was committed by four former priests – White, Abercrombie, Neil Hewitt and John Holloway – none of whom have been in ministry for the last 26 years.

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What was the scope of the Independent Review?

The review focused on all diocesan and extern priests who have served in the Archdiocese between 1950 and today. While religious order priests often serve in our parishes, they report to a different religious superior who maintains their files and handles allegations of misconduct.
What is the status of the priests named in the report?
Of the 22 priests, 15 of them are dead and none of the other seven are assigned in active ministry. The most recent substantiated allegation in the report was perpetrated by Timothy Evans in 1998. Evans has been laicized and remains in prison. More details in the FULL FAQ online.

Are my children safe in Catholic parishes or schools?

Yes. The policies and procedures that have been implemented and strengthened over the last three decades have shown to be effective. Every priest, deacon, employee and volunteer who works with children must pass a background check and attend safe-environment training to be educated on preventing, spotting and responding to potential abuse. We currently have 14,000 trained mandatory reporters, and every year approximately 22,000 children are taught how to keep themselves safe. We have also strengthened our seminary screening and formation process to better prepare our future priests. Constant ongoing vigilance to protect our children, however, is required.

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Has the Church completely fixed the issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors?

No. While we take the absence of substantiated abuse by any diocesan priest in the last 20 years as a positive sign that we are meaningfully addressing the issue, we recognize that child sexual abuse is a pervasive problem in our society and that we must remain vigilant as a Church. The report is a stark reminder of what happened when the issue was not taken seriously.

What happens next?

The archdiocese will immediately work to implement the recommendations of the report, most of which deal with how we investigate historical allegations and respond to survivors who are now adults. To our faithful: we would encourage you to attend one of the safe environment training classes that are required for our priests, deacons, employees and volunteers who work with children. We would also encourage you to find ways to support your current priests, who far too often are judged as guilty by association. Finally, we should all continue to pray for the healing of everyone impacted by sexual abuse.

COMING UP: Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

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In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)