Father Harold White became ordained with the Denver Archdiocese in June 1960 and began his priesthood with a three-year assignment at St. Catherine’s in Denver. Not long after, the archdiocese began receiving reports of what it called in 1965 paperwork “boy troubles.” The archdiocese then began transferring White to other churches in Colorado whenever it received new reports of suspected or alleged assaults. For roughly 33 years, White allegedly sexually assaulted more than 60 children in Colorado before being defrocked.
According to records of his various assignments in the official Catholic directory, White was transferred more than 10 times over the course of his active ministry in Colorado. After leaving active ministry in 1993, he publicly defended himself against numerous accusations of sexual assault. When the press confronted White in 2005 with allegations from victims dating back as early as 1959, he often responded that he had no memory of doing anything inappropriate and sometimes said that he didn’t know the victim.
His name appeared in more than 50 pages of a 2019 report detailing sexual abuse perpetrated by more than 100 other former and current clergy members in the state. But White’s long career with the church gleaned no formal action from church leaders until he was quietly defrocked by the Vatican in 2004. Prior to 2002, the church was not required to report such crimes to local authorities, and it was revealed in the 2019 report that many assaults were not reported to police even after the requirement was put in place.
The list showed that Colorado clergy had abused more than 160 children. For a period of roughly 10 years after tighter restrictions were put in place on reporting abuse, the church allowed known serial abusers to avoid justice while requesting transfers to other churches, retirement and moves out of the state and country.
“When [White] had sexually abused enough children at a parish that scandal threatened to erupt, the Denver Archdiocese moved him to a new one geographically distant enough that White was not known there,” said former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer in the 2019 report. “The Denver Archdiocese repeated this cycle at least six times and never once restricted his ministry, or removed him from ministry, or sent him off for genuine psychiatric evaluation and care.”
More than 60 children tied to White alone were on the list of known victims released last year. His victims saw little if any justice, as the former priest was formally defrocked but was never charged with any crimes. He died at 73 of a reported heart attack while on vacation in Cancun with another priest in 2006.
Since 2006, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed against the archdiocese and the former Colorado priest according to the Associated Press. Only a handful of the suits were settled before 2008. White’s more than 50 remaining victims are left to pursue justice in the current case against the Denver Archdiocese, according to Horowitz Law, which is currently representing White’s abuse survivors.
The state has received negative feedback from communities and victims on the slow progress of the current litigation and program hiccups on the initiative established late last year to provide damages and delayed justice to known victims. The issues for cases in current litigation include pursuing accused priests who are no longer in service, were “punished” separately by the church already or have died before victims could have their day in court.
Colorado is one of more than 15 states offering options for delayed justice to victims who have been unable to resolve their cases with the church. Victims have been encouraged to participate in the Independent Compensation Program regardless of how long ago their assaults occurred, causing some level of resentment from the archdiocese as they believed some cases would be shielded from damages disputes because of the statute of limitations. As of the filing deadline on Jan. 31, nearly 90 people filed claims, 10 of whom accepted payments as early as February in agreement that they will not sue the church.
– Jess Brovsky-Eaker