Parishioners shocked by allegations against priest

Posted 4/17/10

Parishioners at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial say they are in disbelief about the recent removal of a beloved priest over 35-year-old …

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Parishioners shocked by allegations against priest


Parishioners at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial say they are in disbelief about the recent removal of a beloved priest over 35-year-old sexual-abuse allegations.

Father Melvin Thompson, 74, was relieved of his duties by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput on April 8, one day after a man alleged that he was abused by Thompson at an undisclosed church in the mid-1970s.

Thompson, now under investigation by the Denver Archdiocese, is unlikely to face criminal charges in the matter due to a statute of limitations. He has maintained his innocence.

The accusations against Thompson have come as a shock to virtually everyone at St. Thomas More, according to parishioner Michael Kirrane, a Centennial resident who serves as the church’s lector coordinator.

“It was absolutely out of the blue,” Kirrane said of the charge. “When I heard about it, I said, what? April Fool’s was a week earlier.”

Thompson’s swift removal was in direct response to a 2002 Vatican dictate on the way archdioceses are now supposed to respond to sexual-abuse allegations.

There are no other known accusations against Thompson, who most local parishioners describe as a compassionate church leader with a strong ethic and a quick sense of humor.

“He’s absolutely outstanding. He’s a brilliant man,” Kirrane said. “If these allegations are true, I’d be absolutely godsmacked, as they say in England. If he’s guilty, I’m going to be crushed. I would put everything I have up to defend him.”

Church organist Gerry Cummins, a former elected Centennial city clerk, says Thompson would have been the last priest she would have ever suspected of abusing a child.

“His focus has really been on the sick and dying,” Cummins said. “Either I’m a very bad judge of character or they’ve got the wrong guy.”

The investigation has come as the Catholic Church reels from a larger and long-standing worldwide scandal over sexual abuse by priests.

Earlier this month, the Vatican posted its revised guide for handling abuse cases on its website. The 2002 dictate was the result of a policy overhaul led by Pope Benedict XVI, who was then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Decades-old charges against Thompson have surfaced in the wake of the pope being accused of failing to take sufficient action on abuse reports while he served as a high-ranking cardinal in Germany.

According to the Vatican’s revamped guidelines, bishops are now required to restrict the activities of suspected priests and immediately report all allegations to the Vatican and law enforcement agencies.

While Thompson has received broad support from St. Thomas More parishioners, most believe the Denver Archdiocese has acted responsibly in relieving the Centennial priest of his duties pending the church’s investigation.

“Given the broader context, it’s probably the right thing to do,” Deb Wells said. “I’m saddened by the situation and hope that the investigation goes smoothly and finds no information that would incriminate him.”

Kirrane agrees that a speedy resolution would be best for beleaguered Thompson and for the St. Thomas More congregation.

“The Archdiocese did what it needed to do in light of the way Boston, Chicago, Ireland and Germany covered up,” Kirrane said. “Archbishop Chaput is as straight an arrow as you’ll ever come across.”

Regardless of how the church’s investigation turns out, Thompson is unlikely to face criminal charges. Although current Colorado law has no statute of limitations on child sex assault, the state had a three-year cut-off during the period in which Thompson is accused.

Thompson is the second St. Thomas More priest to be relieved of duties this year. On Jan. 11, Chaput removed Father Paul Montez after a Centennial family accused the priest of stalking them.

On April 17, Timothy and Teresa Boh asked a Douglas County judge for a permanent restraining order against Montez, who they allege tried to alienate their teenage son from them with elaborate gifts and meals.


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