Archbishop Charles Chaput removed a priest from active duty in the Archdiocese of Denver the day after an allegation was made that the priest was involved in sexual misconduct with a minor in the 1970s. The archbishop noted in his column for the archdiocesan paper that some parishioners are frustrated at the speed with which he relieved the priest, who maintains his innocence in the matter.
In a letter read at weekend Masses at the various parishes where the accused priest served, Archbishop Chaput wrote that on April 8, he “relieved” Fr. Mel Thompson from his priestly faculties and role in active ministry due to a complaint received on April 7.
The complaint alleged that the priest engaged in “sexual misconduct” with a minor in the early 1970s. Fr. Thompson has served as parochial vicar for St. Thomas More parish for the last nine years and prior to that was in Our Lady of Fatima, St. Vincent De Paul, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Good Shepherd (formerly St. John the Evangelist), St. Rose of Lima, and Christ the King parishes.
“In accord with our policies in this matter,” wrote Archbishop Chaput, “we have reported the allegation to civil authorities for investigation. We are also alerting other parishes where Father Thompson has previously served.”
“It is important to note,” he added, “that Father Thompson maintains his innocence of the allegation, and to respect his privacy as this matter proceeds.”
Archbishop Chaput also related, “Father Thompson has been a popular and effective priest, respected by his brother priests and well-loved by many parishioners.” It comes as “no surprise, then, that various people from around the archdiocese have voiced their frustration with the speed and 'unfairness' of the archdiocesan response to a reported incident from more than 35 years ago.”
“Father Thompson has no previous allegation of any sexual misconduct with a minor in his priestly history,” the archbishop stated, adding that, “in fact, any priest who did, would not be allowed to minister in the archdiocese.”
“In removing Father Thompson, or any member of the clergy, from ministry in a situation like this, we act purely to ensure the safety of children, families and the integrity of the Church community. We take all allegations of abuse seriously.”
“Prompt action is painful for the whole local Church,” Archbishop Chaput added, “but it’s a necessary course to protect people’s trust in their parish and in the archdiocese. In this case, and in any other such case that may occur in the future, we follow diocesan and national policies that exist to serve the safety of our people, and to respect the suffering and dignity of victims. These priorities are vitally important, and they will not change.”
The Denver archbishop also took the opportunity to comment on the renewed media attention to international allegations of clergy sex abuse. He said that the only “good news” in the coverage is that “we’ve learned a great deal from experience.” “It’s clear now, in ways far more irrefutable and widely reported than in years past, that celibacy has nothing to do with the cause of clergy sexual abuse.”
The archbishop continued to say that it is also “irrefutable” that the Church in the United States acted “vigorously” in dealing with past sex abuse cases and that “sexual abuse of minors is equally prevalent in public schools and institutions.”
In his concluding remarks, Archbishop Chaput implored the faithful to “pray for the healing of the person who has brought this claim forward” and to “remember Father Thompson in our prayers.”