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Priest Told To Step Down After Sex-Abuse Accusations

Oct 6, 1997 | AP

Amid hugs and tears, a popular Denver priest told his parishioners Sunday the archbishop has relieved him of his duties so he can concentrate on defending himself against sex-abuse accusations.

In an emotional statement at the end of Mass, Rev. Marshall Gourley spoke in Spanish and English as he told members of Our Lady of Guadalupe church his departure is necessary in the face of a $20 million lawsuit.

"Please, please don't be upset with the archbishop," Gourley, 48, said. "The process that the archbishop has undertaken is in accord with the norms established in this archdiocese and throughout the United States. The process is correct. And the process is necessary."

Gourley has said the molestation accusations are "distressing and not truthful" and he will vigorously defend himself against them.

Some church members said they disagreed with the decision by Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver.

"It's not a good decision," said Lena Martinez, a 35-year church member. "We need Father Marshall. We need him as much as he needs us. . . . But we'll continue to support him, you bet your life we are."

In a letter to parishioners, Chaput said, "The legal work ahead, no matter what the outcome, will be a demanding and time-consuming effort. It will heavily impact Father Gourley's ability to pastor this parish.

"In that light, both to ensure the effective pastoral care of the parish and to enable Father Gourley to concentrate on his defense, I have relieved him of his duties . . . ."

Chaput also said Deacon Alfonso Sandoval will serve as pastoral administrator until a new pastor is appointed.

Last month, both Gourley and the archdiocese were named in a lawsuit filed by former parishioner John Ayon of San Diego, who alleges the priest sexually molested him when he was a teen-ager in Denver in the early 1980s.

The lawsuit also alleges the archdiocese failed to supervise Gourley and concealed his pattern of sexual abuse of minors.

Ayon's Dallas attorney Windle Turley, who recently won a $119 million verdict against the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, said other alleged victims of sexual abuse by Gourley have come forward and their charges will be rolled into Ayon's lawsuit.

Turley said he also has heard from victims in the Denver archdiocese abused by priests other than Gourley.

But tearful church member Maria Argomaniz said she has known Gourley since he took over at Guadalupe and believes the allegations are false.

"The lawyer is just going after the money," Argomaniz said, visibly upset at the news of Gourley's forced departure. "It's a lie. Father Marshall's so friendly, they want to destroy him."

Argomaniz said the church is suffering without Gourley's sermons. Other priests have stood in for Gourley since the lawsuit was filed.

Between standing ovations, Gourley told the packed church that the most difficult thing for him is to be quiet.

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