Denver Archdiocese facing three additional sex abuse lawsuits
DENVER – A Strasburg man who said he was in grade school when a former Roman Catholic priest allegedly gave him alcohol then sexually assaulted him was among three more men filing sexual abuse lawsuits Tuesday against the Archdiocese of Denver.The lawsuit by Roger Colburn, 46, was believed to be the first naming the late Rev. Leonard A. Abercrombie, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Jeff Herman. All the lawsuits allege the archdiocese was aware of abuse allegations but concealed that information.”Bringing out this dark secret really does start the healing process,” Colburn said.The three new lawsuits each seek at least $10 million in compensatory damages, but Colburn said his main goal was encouraging other victims to come forward.”How do you put a number on something so terrible and that has affected your life,” he said. “It’s not something you get over.”In all, nine lawsuits have been filed by people alleging they were assaulted by Harold Robert White, a former priest whom the archdiocese removed from public ministry in 1993. One suit names Abercrombie. Two other men have filed claims in Pueblo accusing former Catholic high school teacher William Mueller of drugging them with ether and then sexually assaulting them.Fran Maier, the archdiocese’s chancellor, declined to comment. “We’re not going to pursue this in the public media,” he said.In 1991, the Denver archdiocese became one of the first in the nation to develop an abuse policy requiring all allegations be reported immediately to law enforcement officials. It has paid $997,730 in counseling and settlement costs to alleged victims since 1950.Herman said he is working on 10 to 15 more potential lawsuits in Colorado, including ones naming other priests.Colburn alleges Abercrombie, a friend of the family, sexually assaulted him on a camping trip when Colburn was age 10 or 11. Colburn alleged he was passed out on alcohol that Abercrombie gave him and awoke to find the former priest grinding against him.Colburn is among three men who told The Denver Post that Abercrombie sexually abused them, beginning in the 1950s.Abercrombie died in 1994 at the age of 73. The Los Angeles Archdiocese has said Abercrombie was accused twice of abusing minors in California, where Colburn said Abercrombie was sent in 1976.The new lawsuits against White were filed on behalf of Pat Hergenreter and a 52-year-old man identified as John Doe.Hergenreter, of Greeley, alleged White abused him when White was assigned to a church in Sterling from 1965-68, beginning when Hergenreter was about 11. White allegedly abused him before and after Mass, in a room where White donned his vestments, the lawsuit said. Abuse allegedly also occured during trips to Denver.White was removed from public ministry in 1993. He left the priesthood last year. The archdiocese has declined to publicly discuss the reasons.”John Doe” alleged White assaulted him over a four-month period in 1974, when he was 21. White rented a room to him in the rectory while White was assigned to a church in Minturn.In August, White told KCNC-TV in Denver the allegations against him contain “half-truths” and that money-hungry lawyers may be behind the lawsuits. He has an unlisted phone number.Herman said he would argue that the statute of limitations for filing the lawsuits does not apply and said the archdiocese concealed information to protect itself from civil liability.Dioceses across the country have been rocked over the past several years by allegations that they merely shuffled priests accused of sexual abuse among parishes to hide problems.The Denver archdiocese has said it takes sexual abuse allegations seriously but has declined to discuss White or Abercrombie in detail.”The story of Rev. White grows uglier by the day,” Herman said, adding that the lawsuits were the “tip of the iceberg.”
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