DENVER (KDVR) — FOX31 spoke with a man who claims in a new lawsuit that an Episcopal priest sexually abused him when he was a teenager.
The victim, who is now 43 years old, says the former priest, Jerry McKenzie, abused him several times starting in 1995. He claims it began when he was 16 years old and went on for several years, and that the priest gave him alcohol and other substances as part of the abuse.
The man is not identified in the lawsuit, but he spoke with FOX31 about what he says happened all those years ago and what led him to file the lawsuit this week. He said he believes he’s one of several other victims of the former priest and claims the bishop silenced them.
He said in the late 1990s, his role in the Episcopal church was everything to him. “I was an altar boy at St. Michael’s, and I was also a church camp counselor,” he said. He called McKenzie “a close confidant.”
“He told me I could tell him anything. He told me not to talk about our special relationship,” he said. That special relationship, he said, involved sexual abuse — abuse he was told not to tell anyone about.
“You’re talking about somebody, you’re told, literally is an agent of God,” he said. He said he was given alcohol and sometimes drugged.
“I was a teenager. I couldn’t handle my weed very well at that time, so it definitely, probably impaired me,” he said.
In child sex abuse claims, ‘I’m one of several others’
His case against the church, he said, is more than just personal retribution: “I know I’m one of several others. I’ve been told I was one of several others. It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
Recalling the abuse and his instruction to keep it quiet yields emotion guttural emotion.
“A bishop who is silencing victims, actively silencing victims, and this all happened on his watch,” he said.
“It’s taken a lot of years of therapy, to be honest with you, to even try to let it go,” he said. But It wasn’t just therapy. He said he also abused drugs and alcohol.
“I think a lot of that has been trying to numb the pain,” he said.
His relationship with the Episcopal church is over, but he still talks about it to friends.
“If they’re parents, I warn them, because people need to know this,” he said. Sharing his story now, he said, is a liberating feeling. “Today feels really momentous because it feels like, finally, this abuse isn’t secret anymore,” he said.
He said he hasn’t talked to McKenzie since the late ’90s and that he offered the church a chance to make things right, but he said this lawsuit is the way to hold them accountable for what he said he experienced.