DENVER – Survivors of alleged sexual abuse by priests have come forward to criticize Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez for opining against legislation that would have made it easier for them to file civil lawsuits against churches.
The state measures, from 2006 and 2008, would have allowed a window for alleged victims to sue for older cases.
A devout Catholic, Beauprez said at the time that the bills served as an “attack on the church.”
He is competing against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper in a tight race.
“We need to support candidates who are going to do all we can to protect kids, and this Beauprez thing just angers me,” said Jeb Barrett, the 75-year-old leader of Denver’s Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“I’m a survivor of childhood sexual assault, and I didn’t have the courage to talk about it until I was 62, 63 years old. It’s a very, very shaming thing to ever be raped,” he said.
The horror for Barrett began when he was 8 years old when an uncle began molesting him for three years. That led to separate incidents, including one with a priest.
“Anyone who considers themselves tough on crime, moral in anyway, is betraying the public trust if they’re going to protect the hiding of the perpetrators,” he said.
Beauprez has made public safety a focus of his campaign. He has relentlessly attacked Hickenlooper for being soft on crime.
The former congressman opposed the bills in 2006 and 2008 because he felt they would have opened the floodgates for trial attorneys to sue. Others – including the Roman Catholic Church, many Republicans and some Democrats – agreed with the former congressman’s perspective, and the bills ultimately died.
Concerns also were raised about exempting public institutions, such as schools.
“It would be a little difficult to defend from the grave. But, then Green and the trial lawyers aren’t interested in digging up the perpetrator, they want to dig into the deep pockets of the Church,” Beauprez wrote of the bills in February 2008, referring to the sponsor at the time, Rep. Gwyn Green, D-Golden.
His campaign responded to the criticism, insisting that Beauprez is committed to victims.
“Bob will continue to stand up for victims of violent crime,” said his spokesman Allen Fuller. “John Hickenlooper has advocated for policies that protect offenders, not victims, and as Colorado’s next governor, Bob will change that.”
The survivors contacted The Durango Herald after a last-minute coordinated effort between SNAP and Making Colorado Great, a group tasked with opposing Beauprez this election cycle. There are five days until the election.
“These perverts, they’ve gone into hiding. But the more that they’re exposed, the more that they’re sued, the more that their employers are sued for sponsoring their sickness, for sponsoring their perversion – that’s the only protection little children are going to have,” said John Murphy, a 70-year-old who said he was first molested when he was 7 years old at the Catholic Camp St. Malo east of Rocky Mountain National Park.
There have been dozens of lawsuits filed in Colorado against the Catholic Church for molestation cases, resulting in settlements. But attorneys have had to come up with clever ways to sue because the 2006 and 2008 measures never passed.
Those cases usually result in lower settlements without going to trial, as well as nondisclosure agreements, so a public record and outing of the priests rarely happens.
In 2006, the Legislature made some progress on child molestation, abolishing the criminal statute of limitations.
But Murphy remains bitter that Beauprez rejected efforts that would have allowed him greater justice and closure, as well as possibly prevented future incidents.
“The whole thing was disgusting, and he was part of it,” Murphy said of Beauprez.
Hickenlooper’s team pointed out that the governor signed a measure this year that established mandatory-minimum sentences for convicted child sex offenders.
“He believes sex offenders should be punished to the full extent of the law,” said Hickenlooper campaign spokesman Eddie Stern.
The governor raised a few eyebrows at a recent debate when he said, “A 17-year-old is dating a young woman who is underage and somebody files a case against that, (and) he becomes a sex offender. I’m not sure that’s fair or not fair, but that’s what sometimes happens.”
Stern responded by pointing out that Hickenlooper answered a loaded question asked by Beauprez.
“The governor was left to discern what the congressman meant,” Stern said. “He speculated that it was about the distinction made in Colorado law around consensual sex and the age of consent.”