DENVER — An investigator of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests says the Pueblo Diocese has set up systems that would significantly improve its handling of reports of misconduct.
Investigator Bob Troyer, a former federal prosecutor, also says the systems — which are new — are yet untested.
Troyer worked this year and last for the Colorado Attorney General's Office to delve into hundreds of cases of sexual assaults by priests in the state's three dioceses: Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver.
In Tuesday's report, Troyer said at least 59 children were sexually abused by 23 priests from 1950 to 1999 in the Pueblo Diocese which stretches across Southern Colorado.
Those priests worked in Pueblo, Rye, La Junta, Rocky Ford, Walsenburg and other locations.
In all three dioceses, 37 of the 212 child sex abuse incidents were not reported to law enforcement by the relevant diocese when required by Colorado law, Troyer said. He went on to say that 113 of these 212 children were sexually abused by 14 diocesan priests after the relevant diocese was already on notice that the priest was a child sex abuser.
Last year he recommended how the dioceses could do significantly better dealing with reported sexual misconduct by priests.
In his new report, Troyer characterizes how well the dioceses have done to implement his recommendations.
"The (Pueblo) diocese has carefully, consistently and firmly made clear in its revised documents that all church personnel must report evidence of child sexual misconduct to law enforcement immediately," Troyer wrote.
"The diocese has clearly defined what constitutes a credible child sexual misconduct allegation, what constitutes a substantiated allegation and what happens to a priest once he is accused of child sexual misconduct. He is immediately removed from ministry," Troyer added. "These are very substantial system-wide improvements that will protect children going forward."
He said the diocese has contracted with an investigator to probe allegations of child sexual misconduct independently from the diocese. "The independent investigator is a retired law-enforcement officer with over 30 years of law enforcement experience, including experience conducting sex crimes and crimes against children investigations.
"Through interviews and a review of the diocese’s revised protocols, we determined the independent investigator is supported by a process that allows for prompt, fact-based, and impartial investigations," Troyer wrote. "These are substantial improvements to the Pueblo Diocese’s child protection systems."
He said he strongly recommended last year that the diocese "engage an experienced independent auditor to conduct thorough, substantive, qualitative evaluations to determine the functional effectiveness of its child-protection and investigations systems every other year. The Pueblo Diocese has fully committed to this improvement.
"An electronic case-management system also is vital to ensure all investigative and administrative steps are completed," Troyer wrote. "Such a system is necessary for an accurate and complete audit of allegations and corresponding investigations, and for accurate and complete record checks when searching accused priest or victim names."
The Denver Archdiocese has developed and now uses such a system, he said. "The Pueblo Diocese has not. Instead, the Pueblo Diocese will track investigations with an electronically maintained checklist and electronically maintained records of its contacts with victims (soon to include the victims’ intake forms). These practices are initial improvements on the diocese’s prior practices, but they are not best practices and fall short of fulfilling our recommendation for an electronic tracking system."
On the other hand, the Pueblo diocese is the only one of the three in the state to have a non-Catholic on a board that is to review cases of possible sexual misconduct by priests.
In what Troyer called "a remarkable spirit of improving its systems to protect children, the Pueblo Diocese has committed to placing at least one non-Catholic on its Diocesan Review Board in a non-voting role in order to benefit from the perspectives of someone with no ties to the church."
He said "the most impressive improvement has been (Bishop Stephen Berg’s) initiative to directly encourage lay Catholics to report to law enforcement and to direct pastors in the Pueblo Diocese to do the same with their parishioners. This is an extremely important advancement in the diocese’s commitment to protect children."