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Lawsuit filed against Episcopal Diocese of Colorado for child sexual abuse

Attorney credits recently-passed law for making suit possible
Posted at 1:43 PM, Jul 22, 2022

DENVER — Lawyers representing a Colorado man announced a lawsuit against the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado that alleges a reverend sexually abused him beginning at 16 years old in the 1990s.

Jessica Arbour, an attorney with Horowitz Law in Fort Lauderdale, announced the lawsuit Friday morning, crediting the passage of Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act that went in effect on Jan. 1, which allows a person who was the victim of sexual misconduct that occurred between Jan. 1, 1960 and Jan. 1, 2022 to take legal action before Jan. 1 2025.

"These are the type of issues that people can't and don't deal with in an arbitrary timeline that they have to bring their lawsuit," Arbour said. "The Colorado lawmakers created a new cause of action that allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse a limited amount of time to seek remedy."

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Arbour’s client, who’s only identified as John HA Doe, reported that he was sexually assaulted by Rev. Jerry McKenzie at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Camp Ilium and a cabin near Nederland beginning in 1995. The victim alleges McKenzie abused him in several ways, including over the clothes fondling, stimulation and sexual gratification, Arbour said during the press conference. The victim also said McKenzie would provide him and others with alcohol, drugs and drug paraphernalia to get them intoxicated as part of the abuse, according to the complaint. The abuse continued until the victim was over 18 years old when he was able to break contact from McKenzie, according to Arbour.

The victim said he knows of other victims of McKenzie, and he and his attorney believe filing the lawsuit will lead to more victims coming forward and provide justice for the people involved in the alleged abuse. Arbour urged anyone who may be a victim of McKenzie to come forward.

"These lawsuits are filed as a symbol of taking back his power, of reclaiming and vanquishing the shame that he has felt and the embarrassment he has felt, and this is ultimately about accountability for him and obtaining a measure of justice that he has waited very, very long for, especially now that he's finding out how many opportunities there were for him to have been protected," Arbour said.

Arbour also said the victim did report the abuse to the diocese and was told their were other reports of similar conduct.

Episcopal Diocese of Colorado provided the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado received notice that a complaint was filed by a former member of the church, alleging misconduct by a former priest, Jerry McKenzie. These events appeared to have occurred in the mid-1990s. Mr. McKenzie was forced to resign his ministry many years ago, in 2000, following allegations of sexual misconduct. The allegations of the plaintiff in this case were not brought forward to the diocese at that time, and the diocese only learned of these allegations relatively recently.

"The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado has taken measures to investigate each allegation of abuse against its clergy. In our tradition and expression of Christianity, we recognize that clergy members have a sacred position of trust. Reports of clergy misconduct and abuse are adjudicated according to the Episcopal Church’s Title IV process, and the diocese cooperates fully with all law enforcement investigations of clergy abuse.

"It remains our view that by virtue of Baptism, all members of the Church are called to holiness of life and accountability to one another. The Church and each Diocese supports their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life, and reconciliation among all involved or affected. The Episcopal Church’s Title IV process applies to Members of the Clergy, who have by their vows at ordination accepted additional responsibilities and accountability for doctrine, discipline, worship, and obedience. For many years, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado has required all clergy and lay leaders in our diocese to undergo safe church training using a churchwide curriculum that includes the Episcopal Church’s model policies to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults.

"Due to the personal nature of these allegations, and the fact a lawsuit is now filed by an individual who wishes to remain anonymous, we cannot comment further. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those individuals who have been affected by the harm caused by any clergy member who has betrayed that trust to the religious community."

Watch the full press conference announcing the lawsuit below:

Lawsuit filed against Episcopal Diocese of Colorado for child sexual abuse