Four weeks after a revelatory report from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office found that Catholic priests allegedly abused at least 166 Colorado children between 1950 and 1998, victims spoke out in favor of changes to the statute of limitations.
At a press conference in Denver on Wednesday, four alleged victims joined Jeff Anderson, a lawyer with a history of bringing lawsuits against the Catholic church on behalf of victims.
“The statute of limitations is so short that it has protected offenders, predators and those that have chosen to protect them,” Anderson said.
Joe McGee recalled that when he reported to church officials his alleged abuse at the age of 10 , he was told, “If Jesus could suffer and die on the cross, I would think you could handle this.”
Along with McGee, Carol Clear, Cate Stover and John Murphy also alleged sexual abuse by clergy.
Anderson’s firm released a report — one of several that cover six states in total — that listed the names, work histories and locations of 95 priests who had at least one public accusation of child abuse against them. He also named the eight bishops on whose watch the alleged abuse occurred.
“If these eight men over here had done their job, there’d be very few faces back here," said Murphy, gesturing to the pictures of accused priests displayed behind him.
Not all of the accused priests necessarily committed a crime in Colorado, said Anderson, but all had worked in Colorado at one point. He retrieved his data from lawsuits, settlements and public reports.
Many of the priests listed are dead. Not quite half are also named in the Oct. 23 report produced by former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer at the request of Attorney General Phil Weiser.
Anderson said that the current whereabouts of 28 priests in his report are unknown.
The criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault and rape against children is 20 years. However, the civil statute of limitations is only for six years after a victim turns 18.
McGee, Clear, Stover and Murphy all said that they were in their 40s and 50s before they came forward with their stories.
House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, has indicated that legislators are “exploring how we can help hold abusers accountable.” Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs is a member of the Judiciary Committee; he has called on the Legislature to “consider legislation that would extend the statute of limitations in cases of child sex abuse and adult sexual assaults.”
On Wednesday, another lawmaker, Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, endorsed raising the statute of limitations in principle.
“It seems reasonable to me to extend time civilly in light of what happened,” she said.
Three of the four survivors had read Troyer’s report. Only Murphy of Colorado Springs recognized his own story of alleged abuse.
Stover and Clear said their stories were left out. Both women spoke with Troyer’s investigators.
“I read every single victim under Father [Harold Robert] White looking for her name,” Stover said, referring to Clear, “looking for girls because they say they don’t abuse girls. And we know that’s not true.”
Among White’s alleged 63 victims, the report lists only one female survivor, No. 39, whom White fondled and forced to touch his genitals. Even though the victim’s abuse occurred around the same time as Stover’s, she said the girl was not her, Clear or a third woman whom she says White abused.
At a press conference releasing the report last month, Weiser said that the report would be updated and encouraged survivors to still come forward to his office.
Stover added that Troyer’s investigators were “wonderful.”
Troyer’s report identified Murphy as Father Leonard Abercrombie’s victim No. 1. Abercrombie allegedly sexually abused him between 1954 and 1958. The victimization occurred “many times” at Camp St. Malo, in Abercrombie’s trailer in Estes Park, in the rectories at Hugo and Roggen, and in Murphy’s home.
Abercrombie denied Murphy’s allegations afterward. However, in a 1991 phone call with Murphy’s sister, Abercrombie allegedly began to cry and allegedly said to her, “Yes I did it. ... There was no intention. Did [your] brother really tell after all these years?”
Murphy reported his alleged abuse to the Denver Archdiocese in 1993. Abercrombie died in 1994. Troyer's report found that he had 18 additional alleged victims.
Murphy said that Troyer's report accurately described his experience, even though it did not name the bishop who allegedly helped cover up Abercrombie’s alleged predations. He said his brothers were the unnamed victims Nos. 2 and 3.
Although a compensation fund exists for victims of clergy abuse in Colorado, Stover said she does not plan to apply, and will instead hold out for a change in the law that will empower her to sue.
“I personally call it hush money,” she said. “When you file a lawsuit, you have a chance of — not more money, because that’s not what it’s about — but making the church reveal more information. There’s the angle I’m going for.”
Editor's note: This article was updated at 3 p.m. to note that Abercrombie died in 1994.