“Spotlight” FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions

Karna Lozoya

The movie “Spotlight,” set for wide release Nov. 20, tells the story of how a team of Boston Globe journalists broke the story of mishandled allegations of sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston. The movie is likely to generate a lot of questions about the sexual abuse scandal. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Download this FAQs sheet here

What has been the Archdiocese of Denver’s response to the sexual abuse scandal?

Since 2002, the archdiocese has accepted the Church’s duty to help support and heal victims of clergy abuse by emphasizing prevention, training, and redress for victims. The Archdiocese of Denver has been found compliant with the USCCB audit for the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People every year.

The archdiocese’s compliance with the Charter has been willing, committed and constant. The archdiocese will continue to report to the civil authorities all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

Further, the archdiocese continues its practice that every credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against clergy and church or school employees results in immediate removal of the alleged offender from his or her position.

What is the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People?

The Charter is the policy for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct with minors that was adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. Before 2002, each diocese addressed sexual abuse allegations with its own policies. The Charter brought those policies together into one uniform procedure.

The Charter includes: pastoral care for victims (Article 1), review boards, policies and procedures (Article 2), prohibition of confidentiality agreements (Article 3), Requirements to report allegations to public authorities (Article 4), zero tolerance of sexual abuse (Article 5), codes of conduct (Article 6), open and transparent communications about abuse allegations (Article 7), training adults to create safe environments (Article 12), training children to recognize grooming behavior and to report it (Article 12), background evaluations on clergy, adults working with children (Article 13), prohibition of transfers of clergy who have committed an act of sexual abuse against a minor (Article 14), ongoing formation of clergy (Article 17).

At the end of the movie, a statement is made that major abuse was also uncovered in numerous dioceses, and Denver is listed. What abuse cases have happened here?

Between 2006 and 2010, the Archdiocese of Denver settled numerous allegations of sexual abuse by two priests—Harold Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie—which occurred between 1954 and 1981. Both priests are deceased.

In the movie, it showed how the Church would enter into confidentiality agreements with victims to ensure their silence. Does the Archdiocese of Denver use this tactic?

The archdiocese does not enter into confidentiality agreements, unless requested by a victim.

In “Spotlight,” an ex-priest named A.W. Richard Sipe is quoted as saying that the celibacy requirement of priests is the cause of sexual abuse by priests. Is this true?

A.W. Richard Sipe is routinely interviewed by the media as an “expert” on Catholicism and the priesthood, and in “Spotlight” he is quoted as stating that celibacy is the root cause of the sexual abuse scandal and then goes on to make a series of other claims regarding sexuality of priests.

The claims made by Sipe are not substantiated or proven, nor is another viewpoint or perspective offered.

Sipe has made unsubstantiated claims over the years, such as claiming that celibacy caused the Holocaust. “I cannot forget that the people and forces that generated Nazism and the Holocaust were all products of one Christian culture and the celibate/sexual power system” (pp. 180, “Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis”).

The movie is not intended to portray a balanced view of the sexual abuse crisis, and its reliance on Sipe shows the biased approach. For some objective numbers of rates of sexual abuse by celibate clergy, see this Newsweek article from 2010—“Priests Commit No More Abuse Than Other Males.” In breaking down the stats gleaned from Newsweek’s reporting, Ross Douthat noted in his blog post “Does Celibacy Increase Sex Abuse?” that “Catholic clergy currently abuse children and teenagers at about one-fifth the rate of the male population as a whole.”

In some news articles there are those who say that nothing has been done by the Church in response to the sexual abuse crisis, and even more, that the problem is worse now than ever. Is that true?

IMG_0337There are no facts to substantiate these claims. In fact, every annual report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), which has been tasked with tracking new allegations of sexual abuse cases by clergy since 2004, reveals that most of the abuse cases reported are from the 60s, 70s and 80s. See report here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/2014-Annual-Report.pdf

In the last 10 years, there is a national average of 8.4 credible new cases of sexual abuse of a minor per year. In 2014, the USCCB reports that there were six substantiated claims from July 2013 to June 2014.

In the current cultural and media landscape, it would be very difficult to conceal any departure from the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Archdiocese of Denver takes every allegation of sexual misconduct seriously. If there is a concern, please contact the Office of Child and Youth Protection: 303-715-3241 or victim.assistance@archden.org.

What do I do if I suspect a child I know is being abused?

If you suspect a child is being abused by anyone, you can contact the State of Colorado’s reporting line 1-844-CO-4-KIDS.

COMING UP: ‘Do you love me?’: This question central to newly ordained’s priesthood, Archbishop says

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

During his homily at the May 19 priest ordination, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told the five new priests that Jesus is asking them again: “Do you love me?” The archbishop referred to the Gospel in which the risen Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, as a reparation for the three times he denied it before being crucified.

The ordination took place at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver. The five new priests are Fathers Angel Perez-Brown, Roberto Rodríguez, and Tomislav Tomic, who all received their formation at Redemptoris Missionary Mater in Denver, and Fathers Darrick Leier and Shannon Thurman, who studied at St. John XXIII seminary in Boston. This seminary provides training to those seminarians who discover their vocation at an advanced age. Curiously, none of the new priests come from the Saint John Vianney seminary, and the average age of the five men ordained is 41 years.

Heart formation

Archbishop Aquila highlighted the importance of intellectual formation and indicated that it should go hand in hand with “the formation of the heart and the spiritual formation” and urged them to follow in the example of Saint John Vianney who, though lacking in great intellectual gifts, was a “humble man” and whose only wish was “the salvation of souls.”

From left to right: Father Darrick Leier, Father Tomislav Tomic, Father Angel Perez-Lopez, Father Shannon Thurman, Father Roberto Rodriguez. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“The heart of every priest must be the love of Jesus Christ,” he said to them.

Archbishop Aquila also exhorted them, paraphrasing Pope Francis, to “go into the peripheries of the world […] of the lives of so many who have abandoned Jesus Christ, who do not know the good news. Even among families and friends there are those in the peripheries who still don’t know Jesus Christ”.

Later, he reminded them that their ministry does not consist in announcing themselves: “we are called to serve Jesus and to serve the Church to lay down our lives as Jesus has laid down his life, and to go wherever we are called to serve Christ.” He also pointed out that the image of Jesus, the good shepherd, “must be your model and is the model for the priesthood.”

The new priests lie prostrate before the altar during their ordination ceremony on May 19. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

And as a model of love and perseverance, the archbishop invited them to look at those couples who have been married for 50 or 60 years and compared their love to “the same type of love that would enable you to feed the lambs, tend the sheep, and serve as Christ served,” he said. He told them that every time they’ll celebrate Mass “is the same sacrifice that Christ offers on the cross”, and there is where “the joy of the Gospel” is found.

Hundreds of faithful congregated in the Cathedral to witness these ordinations. The cultural diversity present was a sign of the universality of the Church. There was a large delegation from Santo Domingo and several from Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as hundreds of local people who accompanied these five new priests. Archbishop asked from them, once again quoting Pope Francis, that they be shepherds “to smell like the sheep,” so they can “accompany them, shearing with them, going out with them and always using Jesus as your model.”

Featured image by Anya Semenoff