Former Aspen priest accused of sexual abuse; archdiocese, local police open investigation |

Former Aspen priest accused of sexual abuse; archdiocese, local police open investigation

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Parishioners at St. Mary Catholic Church were notified Saturday that a former priest has been accused of sexually abusing a boy between 2004 and 2008, according to the Archdiocese of Denver.

The Rev. Michael O’Brien — who left St. Mary in mid-2011 — was immediately placed on administrative leave from his duties as pastor in the eastern Colorado towns of Julesburg and Crook, an archdiocese spokesman said Wednesday, as well as a letter to St. Mary’s parishioners dated Saturday. The allegation was immediately reported to Aspen police, as per an archdiocese policy meant to ensure transparency with church members.

“(Father) O’Brien has resolutely denied these allegations,” according to the letter signed by Vicar General Very Rev. Randy Dollins. “(Before) this, the Archdiocese of Denver has never received an allegation against (Father) O’Brien.”

O’Brien served as pastor at St. Mary in Aspen from May 2002 to June 2011, Mark Haas, archdiocese spokesman, said Wednesday.

The Archdiocese first received the allegation of sexual abuse Sept. 20, Haas told The Aspen Times in a statement. The allegation was reported directly to the archdiocese, Haas said, though he cited privacy concerns and declined to comment further.

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Sgt. Rick Magnuson, who heads the Aspen Police Department’s investigation unit, confirmed Wednesday that police were notified of the allegation Sept. 20 and that an investigation is in the early stages. No charges have been filed.

“We’re aware of the allegation,” Magnuson said. “We have an open and active case now.”

Magnuson said the initial report included “dozens” of allegations of sexual abuse for about four years, when the complainant was a boy. Detectives have not yet spoken with the alleged victim, he said.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has promised “to be transparent with the faithful of the Church of northern Colorado” and will announce “initial information to the appropriate parish communities” when allegations like this arise, according to the archdiocese’s statement.

Dollins’ letter to parishioners was posted Sept. 25 on the St. Mary website across the top of the page, stating: “Important Statement from the Archdiocese.”

“The Archdiocese of Denver is committed to the protection of our most vulnerable, especially our children,” Dollins wrote in the letter. “The archdiocese takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and has specific protocols in place to make sure they are handled appropriately for all of the parties involved. Additional information will be communicated when appropriate.”

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect an erroneous statement by Sgt. Rick Magnuson. An Aspen Police detective was notified by the archdiocese Sept. 20 of the allegations, Magnuson said Thursday.

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