Former Aspen priest faces civil lawsuit accusing him of 300 sexual assaults on altar boy

A former Catholic priest from Aspen not only sexually assaulted a local altar boy around 300 times in the early 2000s, but he also beat the boy when he refused to comply with his sexual demands, according to a civil lawsuit filed last week in Denver District Court.

Reverend Michael O’Brien allegedly began abusing Keegan Callahan at the age of 7, shortly after moving to Aspen in the summer of 2004 with his staunch Roman Catholic family, according to the lawsuit. The mistreatment of Callahan, now 24, serving a 14-year prison sentence for committing sex crimes against minors in Aspen, reportedly continued until 2008.

“If (Callahan) chose not to comply with O’Brien’s sexual demands, O’Brien would physically punish (Callahan) by punching him in the torso, chest and / or back,” according to the complaint filed on the 22nd. December. “The egregious acts of sexual, physical, mental and emotional (Callahan) abuse suffered have resulted in… the developed false belief that rape and torture are normal. “

O’Brien served at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Main Street in Aspen from 2002 to 2011, when he went on a six-month sabbatical to deal with health issues, according to the lawsuit. He was later appointed pastor of a Catholic church in Julesburg, although he was put on administrative leave in September when the Archdiocese of Denver was made aware of the abuse allegations.

At that time, the Vicar General, the Right Reverend Randy Dollins, said that O’Brien “resolutely denied these allegations” and that the Archdiocese had not received any other similar allegations against him.

Denver-based O’Brien’s attorney echoed that statement on Thursday.

“Father O’Brien denies the allegations made by Keegan Callahan in this lawsuit and will fight the allegations in court,” said Kevin McGreevy.

The Aspen Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation into Callahan’s allegations. Sgt. Rick Magnuson declined to comment Thursday on an open case.

Rev. Michael J. O’Brien
Image of the Archdiocese of Denver

Mark Haas, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, said Thursday that the organization is waiting for Aspen police to determine the validity of the allegations. The archdiocese’s policy is to wait until the end of the criminal investigation before undertaking an internal investigation.

“Since receiving this allegation in September, Fr. O’Brien has remained out of ministry and on administrative leave while the Archdiocese of Denver waited for the Aspen Police Department to investigate,” according to an email statement from Haas. “Fr. O’Brien has not been questioned by Aspen PD and no criminal charges have been laid.

“We will do our own internal investigation at the appropriate time.”

Scott Eldredge, Callahan’s lawyer, called the allegations “horrific”.

“It was a repeated and horrific episode of abuse,” he said Thursday. “We are impatiently awaiting the trial. “

The Aspen Times names the alleged victim because she made her name known by filing the public document.

The Callahan family regularly celebrated mass, received the sacraments and participated in church-related activities, according to the lawsuit. Callahan greatly admired and venerated the Roman Catholic Church, served as an altar boy to O’Brien, and attended the classes he supervised.

“The abuse by O’Brien began just months after (Callahan) and his family joined St. Mary’s,” the lawsuit said. “O’Brien continued to prepare (Callahan) by normalizing sexual abuse and explained to him that engaging in these sexual acts was a way of showing the love of God.

“Between 2004 and 2008, (Callahan) was sexually assaulted by O’Brien in St. Mary’s approximately 300 times.

The abuse not only made Callahan believe that the rape and torture were normal, it also caused him “severe emotional, physical and mental anguish”, and left him with a loss of faith in “everything. church or institution ”and a loss of innocence, according to the complaint.

“Further, (Callahan) did not find out… that he had been injured or that the cause of his injuries was due to the abuse he suffered until recently due to the profound psychological damage that resulted from the actions. of (O’Brien) “, the costume says. “Sexual exploitation and the circumstances in which the multiple acts of abuse took place led (Callahan) to develop various psychological coping mechanisms, including self-blame, denial, repression, suppression and dissociation of his experiences. “

The lawsuit accuses St. Mary and the Archdiocese of Denver of negligence in the employment and retention of O’Brien, which left Callahan with lasting injuries.

The complaint does not directly link Callahan’s alleged abuse to his prison term, and Eldredge declined to comment on Thursday whether the two were linked.

Callahan and another young man from Aspen, Henry Henley, were arrested by Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputies in October 2018 and charged with using extreme violence to rape a 16-year-old girl. They were also accused of assaulting other teenage girls.

Callahan pleaded guilty in September 2019 to child sexual exploitation and second-degree assault – two felonies – and two counts of unlawful sexual contact in connection with these allegations. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison later that same month and will have to serve five years of parole when released and register as a sex offender for life.

He is currently being held at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, according to the Department of Corrections.

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