“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: Relationship, not sacrifice is at the heart of Lent

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When we began Lent on Ash Wednesday, the Lord said to us, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2:12-13).

During Lent we strive to unite ourselves with Jesus’ experience of conquering temptation in the desert and pursuing the Father’s will, so that we can fully experience the joy and victory of Easter. The Scriptures and Fathers of the Church consistently recommend three forms of penance that help us on this journey: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

But before we can fruitfully carry out these forms of purification, we must rend our hearts. In the Jewish tradition, ripping one’s garments – known as keriah – is done when mourning a relative who has passed away. Today, some Jews specifically rip their clothes over their hearts if the deceased is one of their parents. The Scriptures mention this expression of grief several times, including Jacob mourning his youngest son Joseph when he thought he was dead, or King David rending his garments at hearing that Saul had died.

Even more important than this outward expression of grief is returning to God with our whole heart, tearing it away from any unhealthy desires and attachments. In his 2018 message for Lent, Pope Francis offers some insights into the ways people develop unhealthy attachments today by reflecting on the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus warns, “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12).

The Holy Father echoes Jesus’ warning that there will be many false prophets who lead people astray. One kind of false prophet, which he calls snake charmers, are those “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others … with momentary pleasures” like dreams of wealth or the belief that they are self-sufficient and don’t need others. Pope Francis also alerts us to “charlatans” – people who offer “easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.” Their traps include drugs, disposable relationships and the temptation of a “thoroughly ‘virtual’ existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless!”

But despite these snares laid by the Devil and his false prophets, God the Father declares through the Prophet Joel that he is “gracious and merciful … slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13). God’s mercy and love for us can transform our hearts, if we are willing to open them to him and deepen our relationship, especially through the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

When it comes to prayer, pursuing a deeper relationship with God means going beyond our first inclination, which is to make ourselves the focus of our prayer and to even boast of our accomplishments. Instead, we should ask God to help us know him better, to experience a greater intimacy with each person of the Trinity. The great Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila, calls this kind of prayer “mental prayer.” “In my opinion,” she said, “mental prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”

If we pray in this way, then our fasting and almsgiving will naturally flow from us as acts of love for Christ in others, rather than being a set of tasks or Lenten requirements to fulfill. Our hearts will be rent, and not merely our garments.

Fasting is another way for us to draw closer to God. Saint Augustine observed this when he wrote, “Fasting purifies the soul. It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart contrite and humble, (and) scatters the clouds of desire … .” By denying our appetites and giving up distractions, we can more clearly hear God’s voice and place ourselves at his service.

The final practice of Lent that conforms our hearts more to Jesus’ Sacred Heart is almsgiving. Pope Francis notes in his Lenten message that almsgiving “sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.”

This other-centered approach will help us to draw closer to the heart of Christ, particularly if we follow the advice of Saint Mother Teresa. “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving,” she was known to say.

As we seek to rend our hearts this Lent in preparation for Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter, let us remember that God desires to draw each of us closer to him. He is waiting for us to seek him out so that he can pour out his mercy, love and kindness upon us.