Archdiocese to pay $5.5 million to erase 'stain'

Rocky Mountain News/July 2, 2008

Art and Agnes Koldeway agonized for years over why three of their six kids abruptly left their secure family in Loveland and fled into the world, angry and estranged.

The years of pain officially ended Tuesday with the conclusion of 18 sex-abuse complaints against the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver for $5.5 million.

Sixteen cases implicated the late Harold Robert White, the priest accused of abusing John, Mary Kay and Tom Koldeway when they were youngsters. All are now in their late 40s or their 50s.

"They were so shamed and guilt-ridden each fled in different directions," said Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who assembled abuse victims Tuesday at a Denver law firm.

Across town, Archbishop Charles Chaput said at a news conference that clergy abuse was a stain on the church. Chaput said he has apologized to the victims in private meetings. He also apologized several times Tuesday as he had done when previous settlements were announced.

"I think that the whole church is hugely mortified and embarrassed by this," Chaput said. "That this could happen in the church seems impossible in the minds of so many of our people. There's anger about that and disappointment and discouragement. . . . Some people have stopped going to church because of this.

"And of course, the people it has impacted the most are victims. At least for the most part, these are all people who were Catholics, if they aren't still Catholics, so that's where the greatest damage has been done."

The latest settlements bring payouts by the archdiocese to at least $8.2 million since 2006 in cases against White, and former priests Leonard Abercrombie and Lawrence St. Peter, all of whom have died. The incidents happened between 27 and 54 years ago, the church said.

The settlement has not been announced in a case involving former priest Timothy Evans, who was sentenced by a state judge in May to 14 years to life for sexual abuse in Larimer County.

One remaining complaint involving Abercrombie is headed to trial, attorney Jeff Herman said. And a case involving another priest, Thomas Barry, is also unresolved. Barry is also dead.

Chaput noted that the Catholic Church is not the only institution with sexual abuse problems.

"The world has a sexual abuse problem," he said. "Our country has a sex abuse problem.

"Unfortunately, our church shared in that, and the events in our church are very public. But it certainly isn't something only the church has."

Chaput said the church has not had to sell property to compensate abuse victims, as has occurred in other dioceses. But he said the millions of dollars paid out hurts the archdiocese and could affect Catholic schools, though not Catholic Charities.

"That's a lot of money for anyone," he said, adding "It's appropriate that they (the victims) be compensated for their pain."

'Today is a great day'

As part of the settlement, the archdiocese released some of its files on White. Chaput said they showed no evidence he abused anyone after 1981.

Tom Koldeway, now 47, said White began abusing him when he was about 9.

"Today is a great day," said Koldeway. "I feel fulfillment. I feel justification. I have no regrets for what we've done. I hope we've taken steps today so that this never happens to other children."

Koldeway said the files showed that the archdiocese knew of complaints against White dating back to before Koldeway was born.

"They concealed him," he said. "They enabled him to be what he was."

Chaput said the church's policy now is to remove priests from ministry as soon as a credible complaint is received. The church will work actively with police on sexual abuse cases, he said. And the church has an extensive training program on sexual abuse.

For the Koldeway family, the training came too late. Agnes Koldeway said she recalled how the friendly priest, Father White, became part of their family life.

"He was the kind of priest that always seemed to have a lot of toys for the kids," she said. "He drove a new car and knew how to fly. He took the kids skiing."

But one day, as White walked into the family's home, "I thought, 'What is he doing here so much?' "

She didn't know why, "but I was getting a little agitated by his visits." This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Denver abuse cases

  • 46 known cases of abuse, some dating to the 1950s.

  • 44 cases that have been settled, including 18 announced Tuesday.

  • 5 priests who have been publicly accused of abuse.

  • $8.2 million has been paid to victims thus far.

A sordid history

Of the 18 clergy sex abuse settlements announced Tuesday, 16 involved Harold Robert White, one involved Leonard Abercrombie and one involved Lawrence St. Peter. All three were priests in the Denver archdiocese and all are now dead.

The victims were between 8 and 14 years old. Some victims have chosen to remain anonymous.

St. Peter was accused of abusing a young person in the 1970s, said Jeff Anderson, attorney for the victims. He was a monsignor who headed the archdiocese between Archbishop James Casey's death in 1985 and the selection of Archbishop Francis Stafford a year later, said historian Tom Noel.

Anderson said the St. Peter case surfaced only recently and was first made public Tuesday.

Abercrombie has been accused in a number of cases. However, the settlement announced Tuesday alleged abuse by Abercrombie at All Saint's Parish in Denver in the 1960s.

As part of the settlement, the archdiocese released part of White's personnel file -- a reversal of its longstanding policy to keep such information private. These allegations, based on that file, are included in a timeline released by Anderson.

  • Late 1950s-61: White abuses John Doe No. 1 while a deacon assigned to Holy Family Parish in Denver.

  • June 1960: White is ordained a priest and assigned to St. Catherine's Parish in Denver.

  • 1961: White is visiting St. Joseph Hospital when he meets John Doe No. 2, a boy who has been hospitalized. White later visits John Doe No. 2 in his home and abuses him.

  • 1961-1963: Gary Wolf is abused by White while he is in the seventh and eighth grades at St. Catherine's Parish school. He says he reports it to a monsignor and a nun, but the abuse continues. Two others report that White molested them while they attended St. Catherine's.

  • 1963: White is assigned to St. Mary's Parish in Colorado Springs. During his first year there, he abuses a child.

  • 1965: White takes a boy from St. Mary's on a trip to Alaska and abuses him. White is transferred shortly afterward to St. Anthony's Parish in Sterling.

  • 1967-68: A boy from St. Anthony's, Greg Roberts, is abused by White. The parish's pastor confirms that he was notified and he in turn notified then Archbishop James Casey.

  • 1968-1978: White is transferred to St. John the Evangelist in Loveland and later to St. Patrick's Parish in Minturn. Nine people come forward later to say that White abused them during this time. Three are from the Koldeway family, which considered White a trusted family friend. White abused Mary Kay Koldeway, then about 10 years old, on skiing trips. He also abused her brother, John, during the same time period. A third Koldeway child, Tom, is abused by the priest from the ages of 9 to 18.

  • 1979: White is named pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Aspen. An anonymous accuser goes to the media 25 years later to say he was abused there.

  • 1981-1990: White is reassigned to a series of parishes in the archdiocese. He is demoted to associate pastor.

  • 1993: White leaves active ministry.

  • November 2007: White dies of a heart attack.

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