“Spotlight” FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions

Karna Swanson

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: Q&A: Cardinal Stafford: “The Eucharist has been the center of my life”

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On the dawn of his 60th anniversary of priestly ordination, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, archbishop emeritus of Denver, reflects on the origins and fruits of his vocation. He will celebrate a Mass in thanksgiving with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m.

DC: What were your desires as a young man and how did God call you to the priesthood?            

Cardinal Stafford: Images of God arose very early in my life. From my parents’ encounter with Jesus in the confessional, concrete impressions developed into images. Those images spoke to me of God’s holiness and beauty. I understood that He was great and forgiving.

Reality became complex with more birthdays. The brutality of the 20th century… insinuated itself into my world-view. I was bewildered by the horror of that era… A few years later I also discovered St. Augustine’s joy in reflecting upon the beauty of the Creator of the world in his Confessions… I learned that the love of Christ transforms our unloveliness into God’s beauty.

Both the beauty of the Ancient One and the rub of evil have coexisted in my faith and experience. Jesus’s invitation, “The laborers are few”, resonated in my soul.  The fact that the priestly vocation is totally given over to the “ministry of reconciliation” became the North Star of my life.

Archbishop J. Francis Stafford blesses the altar of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Aurora, Colo. (Photo by Denver Catholic Register)

DC: What practices have helped you remain faithful to your vocation during these 60 years?

Cardinal Stafford: When awakening each morning, I recite a single verse from Psalm 51, “Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.” Three times it is repeated. Thereafter, the grace of God sets the day on the right track. It becomes a song of praise to God. With hard practice it daily gathers momentum. It places front and center the most beautiful mystery of the Christian faith: The Triune God. The love and beauty of the Most Holy Trinity light up the whole day even when God appears more distant than near.

The psalmist has been a great catechist. He has taught me that human beings are doxological (people of praise) by nature especially in the Dark Night – not only as individuals, but also within community… Doxological prayer has led me to appreciate why St. Augustine wrote, “The goal of all Christian watchfulness and all Christian progress is a pious and sober understanding of the Trinity.”

Cardinal James Stafford holds a relic of St. Teresa of Calcutta during a Mass celebrating her feast day at St. Joseph’s Parish on September 5, 2016, in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DC: What have been some of the challenges and highlights of your priesthood?

Cardinal Stafford: The challenges: Christians in Europe and North America are struggling with the “juggernaut” of secularization… Generally, its roots are found in the fact that most Europeans and Americans today find themselves thrust into the universe without any foundation for living. Most imagine themselves in a free-fall through space with unintelligible entrances and exits. The challenge is how to confront this unprecedented reality. The pastoral solutions have seldom been forthcoming.

The highlights of my priesthood: Visiting the home-bound. They are the hidden pillars of every local Church. Beyond the home-bound, I have always felt that Colorado’s response to the invitation to celebrate the 1993 World Youth Day was the measure beyond all measure. In other words, the event was from God… [and] God was delighted with Coloradans.

Pope John Paul II thanks Cardinal Stafford for his leadership in organizing World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. (Photo by Denver Catholic Register)

DC: Who have been your greatest role models and how have they impacted your vocation?

Cardinal Stafford: My mother and father have been my greatest Christian role models. Their love and friendship were life-long and mutual. The two were the best of friends. Their life together, ten years after their marriage, was tested severely… [Tuberculosis] struck [my mother] with extreme severity.

She required prolonged hospitalization that included three major surgical operations over a period of nearly three years. Throughout that time her faith, courage and love remained ever-present signs along the road. My father’s love for his wife never faltered during her hospitalization… His presence to her was reassuring, quiet, and unassuming.  The grace of the sacrament of marriage sustained both of them and was an enormously important witness for me.

Cardinal Stafford celebrates Mass during World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. (Photo by James Baca/Denver Catholic Register)

DC: Reflecting on your priestly experience, what practices are essential to the Catholic priest of the New Evangelization?

Cardinal Stafford: The Eucharist has been the center of my life… Over the years, I learned that priestly celibacy was related to the eschatological nature of the Eucharist.  In 390 AD bishops at the Council of Carthage underlined this connection, “That holy bishops and priests of God…. observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us endeavor to keep.”

I’ve reflected for over four decades over the forthrightness of their statement. I still ask myself why the ancient bishops chose the phrase “in all simplicity.”  Their choice was related to the priest’s acting “in the person of Christ”. That’s Eucharistic and the Eucharist is doxological. Their assertion that clerical celibacy had apostolic origins surprised me.

Finally, a lay friend taught me one of the greatest graces of these sixty years, “Gratitude for the gift is shown only by allowing it to make one fruitful,” from Meister Eckhart. That is my prayer in celebrating my 60th anniversary of priestly ordination.