It was only in 2002 when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops took steps to protect children from sexual abuse.
A report by the Attorney General studied 70 years of reported sexual abuse across the state, but 83 pages put the spotlight on Colorado Springs and Pueblo, where the most recent report of abuse was made just last month.
“The numbers and the stories are painful,” Attorney General Phil Weiser said.
The Colorado Springs Diocese had at least two sexually abused victims between 1980 and 1986, and those victims reported in 1993 and 1988 but Colorado law did not mandate clergy reporting of child sex abuse incidents at that time.
Pueblo Diocese received no allegations of child sex abuse between 1969 and 1975, but there are at least 13 allegations between 2002 and 2019. Only 4 were reported to the police.
According to the AG’s report, the last time the Pueblo Diocese failed to follow Colorado’s mandatory reporting law was almost 10 years ago. It followed the law in reporting two allegations of clergy child sex abuse it received in September.
Below is how victims reported a sexual encounter with a church worker in the past.
The Colorado Springs Diocese has its own Office of Child and Youth Protection with associated programs. The Pueblo Diocese created policies including the Diocese of Pueblo Sexual Misconduct Policy and the Diocese of Pueblo Protocol for Diocesan Review Board.
Both the Pueblo and Colorado Springs Dioceses have a Safe Environmental Training Program, which all adult members take before working with children.
All new church workers in Colorado Springs must go through a criminal history background check, plus they’re required to take updated training on a yearly basis. For Pueblo, it is every five years.
In Colorado Springs the process was supposed to look like this: a Victim Assistance Coordinator would listen to the allegations of abuse or neglect of a child and report it to the appropriate authority and the Bishop.
In Pueblo, the coordinator would report allegations to law enforcement and the Vicar for Clergy.
In both cases, investigative teams would present the facts to a review board. The Review Board would advise the Bishop who would ultimately decide what actions to take.
The Colorado Springs Diocese’s current Review Board is composed of the following:
• a licensed professional counselor;
• a retired judge;
• a licensed clinical social worker;
• a police detective;
• a former public-school administrator; and
• a retired licensed clinical social worker.
The Pueblo Diocese’s current Diocesan Review Board is composed of the following:
• an attorney/retired judge;
• a victim of sexual abuse;
• a physician’s assistant;
• a retired police detective;
• a social worker; and
• a retired probation officer.
Now, changes are in store.
The Attorney General wants improvement in the investigation process and record keeping. He wants the church to look out for the well-being of the victims, make sure there is accountability for predators and transparency in the process.
“By telling everyone’s story and having a full account we can best learn from and address this wrong-doing. If people can come forward who haven’t yet, we will have a more full account of what happened,” Attorney General Weiser said.
He demanded an effective evaluation of how the diocese will prevent, investigate, document, and make decisions about sex abuse allegations.
The Attorney General’s Office sent recommendations for both dioceses to ensure public safety.
5 Recommendations for the Pueblo Diocese:
- Office of Independent Review – create a contract with an independent component to handle investigations.
- Safe Environment Coordinator/Victim Assistance Coordinator Improvements -provide on the website a description of its child sex abuse response process and manage the formal intake process. The Victim Assistance Coordinator should be restricted solely to the care of the victim.
- Audit Function -should engage an independent party with auditing expertise to provide a qualitative evaluation of the performance of its child protection and investigation systems. This should happen at least every other year.
- Diocesan Review Board Improvements – should receive completed investigative reports from the Office of Independent Review, review them, confer and make recommendations to the Bishop based on the information developed by the Office of Independent Review.
- Training Improvements, compliance with mandatory reporting laws – The Pueblo Diocese should supplement its Safe Environment Training with material that enhances its personnel’s trust, understanding of, and active engagement with law enforcement as an essential partner in the protection of children from sex abuse. This enhancement should also include material designed to foster a “see something, say something” culture around clergy child sex abuse.
6 Recommendations for the Colorado Springs Diocese:
- Office of Independent Review – create, or contract with, an independent component to handle investigations.
- Office of Child and Youth Protection Improvements – the website should include a description of its child sex abuse response process and an electronic intake form that victims and witnesses can use to report allegations.
- Audit Function – should engage an independent party with auditing expertise to provide a qualitative evaluation of the performance of its child protection and investigation systems. This should happen every other year at a minimum.
- Victim Assistance Coordinator Improvements – responsibilities should be restricted solely to the care of the victim.
- Review Board Improvements – it should receive completed investigation reports from the Office of Independent Review, review them, confer, and make recommendations to the Bishop based on the information developed by the Office of Independent Review.
- Training Improvements, compliance with mandatory reporting laws – should supplement its Safe Environment Training with material that enhances its personnel’s trust, understanding of, and active engagement with law enforcement as an essential partner in the protection of children from sex abuse. This enhancement should also include material designed to foster a “see something, say something” culture around clergy child sex abuse
The Attorney General says the response to an allegation that a priest sexually abused a child must focus on the well-being of the victim, the prevention of other victims, absolute adherence to applicable local, state and federal laws, thorough and organized record-keeping, a diocese-initiated investigation, and immediate action in response to the investigation.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, help is available. You can contact Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or Text “TALK” to 38255.