Denver - A Centennial priest suspected of sexual assault in the 1970s has been cleared by church authorities.
Father Mel Thompson, of Centennial's St. Thomas More Parish, was suspended last April after church authorities received a tip from an adult male that Thompson sexually assaulted him in the early 70's.
Church authorities investigated the claims of the accuser and came to a unanimous decision Thompson had done nothing wrong.
Father Thompson has received all of his priestly duties again, but the church said he will retire and not return to the active ministry.
Former parishioners and friends said Father Thompson was well received by the churches he served and say they have defended him throughout the seven month investigation.
"He's a good man," said B.C. Mulholland, a good friend of Thompson who attended his church when he led Our Lady of Fatima in Lakewood.
Her husband, Richard Mulholland, said he truly believed Thompson was innocent.
"We didn't think he could be guilty," he said. "It's been devastating for him for the last seven months."
Mulholland said Thompson has been in seclusion battling health issues.
"I'm sorry to see they are guilty until proven innocent," he said.
The Mulhollands did say they hope to speak to him soon.
"We love you Mel," said Richard Mulholland. "We're tickled to death that you've been exonerated."
Through the archdiocese, Father Thompson chose not to speak to the media.
The Archdiocese of Denver released a statement on Sunday about the innocence of Thompson and his reinstatement to, and subsequent request for retirement from, the church:
"In April of 2010, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. removed the priestly faculties of Father Mel Thompson, placed him on administrative leave and made the necessary report to civil authorities. The archbishop acted in accord with archdiocesan policies for the protection of children and young people, because of an allegation made against Father Thompson of sexual misconduct 30 years ago with a minor. From the beginning, Father Thompson has maintained his innocence of this allegation.
"When allegations of sexual abuse of a minor arise, the Archdiocese of Denver relies on the Archdiocesan Conduct Response Team, made up of professional laypersons and the archdiocesan vicar for clergy, Msgr. Bernie Schmitz, to investigate thoroughly the claim. Over the past seven months, the team has interviewed the parties involved and spoken with others who might have helpful information regarding this allegation. Based on their investigation of the facts, the members of the Conduct Response Team have unanimously concluded that the allegation against Father Thompson is not supported by the evidence they reviewed. They have recommended to Archbishop Chaput that nothing impedes Father Thompson's return to active ministry. Therefore, in light of the Conduct Response Team's recommendation, Archbishop has restored Father Thompson to priestly service, effective immediately.
"Father Thompson has requested retirement. Having reflected on his experience of the last seven months and his current health issues, Archbishop Chaput has granted his request.
"In a letter read to parishioners in the parishes where Father Thompson has served, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged that any allegation of this nature creates immense pain both for the accuser and the accused. He expressed his gratitude to all for their patience throughout this very demanding process and assured the people of the Archdiocese that the safety of children and families is - and will remain - a priority for the Church. He also asked parishioners to keep the local Church and everyone affected by these matters in their prayers."