Lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse filed against Archdiocese of Denver

Man who attended St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary High School names former priests in complaint

By: - January 7, 2022 5:00 am
Catholic Church

Christ the King Chapel, at the Archdiocese of Denver campus, is pictured April 1, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

At least one lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy has been filed in Colorado following the passage of a new law last year.

On Monday, Colorado resident Brian Barzee sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, alleging exploitation and sexual abuse by a former priest during his time at St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary High School in Denver. Barzee’s suit was filed under Senate Bill 21-88, which passed last year and took effect on Jan. 1.

Under the new law, survivors of child sexual abuse for whom the civil statute of limitations has already expired have three years to file state lawsuits against their abusers and the public or private institutions that turned a blind eye to that abuse.

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Colorado law previously required survivors to file a lawsuit over child sexual abuse within the six years following their 18th birthday. But SB-88 created a new way for people who are already older than 24 to sue over incidents that occurred as early as 1960.

“It’s only because of this new law that any of us are ever going to have a voice against our offenders,” Barzee said at a November press conference announcing his intention to file suit once the law took effect. He was joined by his attorney, Michael Nimmo of Denver.

SB-88 press conference
From left: Plaintiffs Meg Hargett and Brian Barzee; their attorney, Michael Nimmo; and Brie Franklin, the executive director of Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, participate in a news conference at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center on Nov. 18, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Alleged abuser had been named in report

Father James Moreno, who was named in Barzee’s lawsuit, was identified in a December 2020 report released by the Colorado attorney general’s office as a follow-up to a prior report from October 2019 detailing sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy.

According to the report, Moreno allegedly sexually abused a boy from 9th grade to college after a substantial amount of grooming — a term used to describe the manipulative behaviors used by sexual abusers to gain access to a victim — during the boy’s freshman year at St. Andrew’s Preparatory Seminary High School. Before the unnamed victim turned 18, Moreno allegedly abused him more than 60 times. The alleged abuse described in the attorney general’s report occurred from 1978 to 1980.

Moreno’s abuse of Barzee, meanwhile, allegedly occurred from 1978 to 1982. Barzee claims Moreno sexually abused him hundreds of times. As part of his grooming of Barzee, Moreno would give him “special treatment” and would take him to see movies, on fishing and camping trips, and on trips to Camp Saint Mallow in Estes Park, according to the lawsuit. At the time, Moreno was working as the spiritual director of St. Andrew’s.

Moreno’s alleged abuse included fondling Barzee’s genitals, forcing Barzee to perform oral sex on Moreno, and forcibly raping Barzee along with other unidentified priests. The lawsuit also claims Moreno gave Barzee alcohol, marijuana and sedatives.

“Father Moreno established, supervised, and participated in activities and programs involving the minor children enrolled at St. Andrews, and engaging with minor children was an integral part of his work,” the lawsuit said. “Consequently, he was an adult placed in a position of responsibility, trust, and supervision over the minors enrolled at St. Andrew’s.”

In late 2019, the unnamed abuse victim described in the attorney general’s 2020 report contacted the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program established by Colorado’s three Roman Catholic dioceses. The IRRP — which paid compensation to eligible victims of child sexual abuse — was established in October 2019, the same month the Colorado attorney general’s office published its original report on sexual abuse by clergy.

In addition to that reparations program, which was in effect from 2019 to 2020, the Archdiocese of Denver had also funded a reparations program from 2006 to 2008, according to spokesperson Mark Haas.

“Even though the most recent official program has ended, the archdiocese did commit to continue to work with anyone who came forward, and we have done that,” Haas wrote in an email. The two programs paid compensation to a total of more than 115 victims who received an average of $142,000 each, Haas said, adding that the size of the award varied based on the circumstances.

Haas declined to provide a statement on Barzee’s lawsuit before the archdiocese finished reviewing it.

After the victim described in the attorney general’s 2020 report submitted information about Moreno through the IRRP, Moreno admitted to the sexual abuse, according to the report — which noted that the attorney general’s office wasn’t aware of any evidence proving Moreno’s guilt. The Archdiocese of Denver reported the abuse to law enforcement and began the process of laicizing Moreno. Moreno had already medically retired from priesthood 16 years earlier, the report noted.

The archdiocese has permanently removed Moreno’s faculties, meaning he cannot celebrate Mass, hear confessions or carry out other priestly ministries anywhere in the world, Haas said in an email.

“Laicization involves the Vatican officially declaring that he is no longer a priest,” Haas explained. This process is still underway for Moreno, though Haas noted that the difference between removing Moreno’s faculties and laicizing him isn’t particularly noticeable to the general public.

Lawsuit describes abuse by multiple priests

The archdiocese adopted a sexual misconduct policy in 1991, Haas said. The policy included “mandatory reporting to police, required education and training for all employees and youth-serving volunteers, background checks, and survivor support,” according to a page on its website to which Haas directed Newsline.

But during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Barzee’s lawsuit claims that at least six other priests at St. Andrew’s were aware of Moreno’s alleged abuse of Barzee and other boys. Two of those named in the lawsuit, Fathers James Rasby and John Holloway, were included in the attorney general’s report.

“Many of these individuals were not only aware of the abuse but aided Father Moreno in the abuse or participated in the abuse themselves,” the complaint says.

According to Barzee’s lawsuit, the archdiocese “knew that priests and brothers of the Catholic Church and Archdiocese, under their supervision and control, were grooming and sexually molesting and abusing children,” failed to take “reasonable steps” to protect children, and “actively concealed” the abuse.

The front entrance to the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Colfax Avenue in Denver on Dec. 21, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Barzee’s lawsuit accuses a second priest, who was not mentioned in the attorney general’s original 2019 report or in the supplementary 2020 report, of sexual abuse. In or around 1979, Barzee alleges that Moreno took Barzee to Camp Saint Mallow when several other priests were staying there. Moreno allegedly took Barzee to the second priest’s room, where that priest fondled Barzee’s genitals, and he then returned Barzee to Moreno’s room, the lawsuit claims.

In 1982, Barzee alleges that Moreno told Barzee they were going on a trip together to Brush. Barzee went to the second priest and pleaded with him not to make Barzee go on the trip, the lawsuit says.

The priest “told Mr. Barzee that if he did not go on the trip, he would be kicked out of St. Andrews and out of the Catholic Church,” the complaint says. “Mr. Barzee went on the trip to Brush with Father Moreno, where Father Moreno forcibly raped Mr. Barzee once again.”

Clock is ticking for survivors of long-ago child sexual abuse

Under SB-88, survivors of child sexual abuse for whom the statute of limitations has expired must file lawsuits before 2025. The final version of the bill was sponsored by Sens. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, and Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, along with Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, and Matt Soper, a Republican from Delta. Gov. Jared Polis signed SB-88 into law in July.

The new law includes some limits on the amounts that can be paid in damages to plaintiffs who file claims over child sexual abuse. For private institutions, the limit is $1 million.

A fiscal analysis of SB-88, updated in August, estimated the state would pay $2.71 million in damages in each of the next five years to people who filed lawsuits under SB-88 against state agencies and youth programs.

A companion bill that also passed last year aimed to provide more opportunity for survivors of recent and future child sexual abuse to hold their abusers and the institutions that employed them accountable. Senate Bill 21-73 removed the civil statute of limitations for survivors who had not turned 24 by Jan. 1 and for future survivors of child sexual abuse in Colorado. Danielson and Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, sponsored SB-73, along with Reps. Michaelson Jenet and Soper.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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