DENVER (Reuters) - At least 166 children have been sexually abused at the hands of 43 Roman Catholic priests in Colorado since 1950, an investigative report disclosed on Wednesday, far exceeding the scope of the scandal previously documented in the state.
The scathing 263-page report, presented by former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer, accused the Archdiocese of Denver and the Dioceses of Pueblo and Colorado Springs of fostering a culture of secrecy that placed the reputations of offending clergy and church leaders over the welfare of children.
“This dynamic in the Colorado Dioceses was a severe impediment to the protection of children, and it is one (they) are not done addressing,” the independent report said.
Most of the abuse took place decades ago, although one case found to be “arguably still viable for prosecution” has been referred to authorities for further criminal investigation, the review said. The alleged offender was not identified.
In documenting the church's failure to protect its youth from predators, the report cited the example of one now-deceased Denver-area priest, George Weibel, who investigators concluded had molested at least two girls under the guise of teaching them to swim or ice skate.
One victim reported the abuse to another priest, who failed to notify church superiors because he was good friends with Weibel, according to the report commissioned by the state attorney general's office.
“He did not report it to Denver Archdiocese authorities, and he did not even record her (victim) report until years later. As a result, the Denver Archdiocese did not take any action against Weibel,” the report said.
The report's release came eight months after the three dioceses agreed to open up their personnel files to Troyer’s team of investigators and set up a compensation fund for victims.
In a statement following the release of the report, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila apologised to the victims, but said his words could not ease their suffering.
“I am sorry about this horrible history — but it is my promise to continue doing everything I can so it never happens again,” Aquila said.
The U.S. Catholic Church has paid out more than $3 billion to settle such claims since clergy sexual abuse exploded as an international scandal in 2002, when the Boston Globe first reported on priests molesting children and church leaders covering it up, according to the website BishopAccountability.org, which tracks the issue.
The Colorado report said that of the 166 known victims, the “vast majority” were boys, and most were between the ages of 10 and 14.
In 2008, the Denver archdiocese paid out $5.5 million to settle 16 abuse claims, including those against one priest, since deceased, who victimized at least 63 children.
In a statement, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) urged Colorado lawmakers to pursue legislative action to help prevent abuse and ease statutes of limitations that have barred many victims from coming forward with claims of past abuse.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)