Homeless Outreach at the Cathedral

Melissa Keating

Ron Cattany used to be a government employee, living on Capitol Hill since 1985 and spending his lunch breaks at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. He left for seminary in 2009. Now he serves as the pastor of the Cathedral he loves so much. He said that his mission as pastor is simple: He wants to serve all the people of Capitol Hill, no matter their economic stance or background. This includes everyone from young professionals to
the homeless.

“We’re doing a lot about maintaining access for the people of Capitol Hill. The poor and homeless are labels, but they’re people. They’re the people of Capitol Hill, and they’re part of what defines this area,” Father Cattany said. “They are part of the population we serve. I think the big difference I’ve seen in the six years that I’ve been away from the Hill is that life on the streets has changed. It’s become more risky—the drug traffic and the lack of permanent shelters have increased exposure to the natural and human elements—people wear out…and they become victims of crime.”

DENVER, CO - MAY 18: Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila stands with seven newly ordained priests at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on May 18, 2013, in Denver, Colorado. From left, the Rev. Br. Paul Kostka, the Rev. Br. John Ignatius, the Rev. Arturo Chagala, the Rev. José Aníbal Chicas-Guevara, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, the Rev. William Clemence, the Rev. Ronald Wayne Cattany, the Rev. Scott Alexander Bailey. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic Register)

Father Ron Cattany. File Photo.

The Cathedral staff has tried several different approaches to keeping the Cathedral safe. For example, the Cathedral was closed for one day last June.

“It made The Denver Post and the Channel Four News. People want their cathedral open,” Father Cattany said.

Embracing all the people of Capitol Hill is not a mission for the faint of heart. Father Cattany is confident he and his staff and volunteers are up to the challenge, but they still need help.

Luckily, other parishes in the diocese have stepped in to help.

Parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul in Denver help make the 15,600 breakfast sandwiches the Cathedral hands out each year. The homeless can go to Mother of God on N. Logan St. or Holy Ghost on California St. for lunch. St. Thomas More in Centennial, Light of the World and St. Francis Cabrini in Littleton all pledge donations of food or funds that haveallowed the Cathedral to start offering afternoon snacks and help out Christ in the City, as well.

In addition, the Cathedral has an active St. Vincent de Paul society. Although none of the Cathedral’s ministries will give people money directly, they do help individuals pay bills and find furniture for people who have recently found housing.

Father Cattany’s reason for doing so much outreach to the homeless is simple: Because they’re here.

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Capitol Hill contains a mix of young professionals and homeless individuals. The Cathedral staff is working to accommodate both.

“There’s a constant parade of people coming in who need help. We figure out what we can do, what Catholic Charities can do, what the St. Vincent de Paul Society can do, as well as the other service providers in the area—like The Salvation Army,” he said.

Not all the help comes from diocesan organizations. Father Cattany said that every Sunday, the Cathedral has about 1,500 worshippers. Shortly after arriving at the Cathedral, Father Cattany learned that investment income for the Cathedral was down over 50 percent for the last fiscal year. His response was to ask people in the pews to increase their donations.

“The people’s response to give a dollar more a week has been unbelievable—as well as the number of gifts and  bequests. Our expenses are currently $35,000 more than what we take in between offertory and other income. We’re closing that gap,” Father Cattany said.

“That’s why our volunteers are so important,” Father Cattany said. “I’m so grateful for the people who have come forward to help in both service ministries and liturgical ministries since I’ve come here.”

Even if the Cathedral wasn’t actively ministering to the homeless, extra security would still be essential. The Cathedral is located on Colfax Ave. in North Capitol Hill. According to a Denver Police crime map, this area saw 297.5 offenses per square mile in December 2015. According to a separate crime map compiled by The Denver Post, two of the most common types of crime were drug/alcohol related offenses and public disorder.

The cathedral, the mother church of the archdiocese, sits in the middle of this. It also contains the only public restroom between the 16th Street Mall and Downing Street, which Father Cattany said is an important, yet simple factor to the people on the streets.

“Where access has been abused in the past is that people were doing drug deals, having sex, etc. in a sacred space— hat has stopped. We serve the poor and the homeless—we have zero tolerance for drugs and vandalism,” Father Cattany said.

His solution was to hire a security guard to be in the Cathedral during business hours.

“That’s an important message for people to know: When they come here, they’re safe. The changes over the last six months have helped us to keep the church cleaner, and it has cut down on the former illicit activities. Someone watching is worth their weight in gold so that the facilities are open and safe so people can visit,” Father Cattany said.

He said the personnel have also made it easier for the homeless to visit the Cathedral during the day, even if they do simply use the opportunity to rest in safety.

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Capitol Hill residents of diverse backgrounds mingle at the Cathedral’s liturgies. Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

“We will ask them not to snore, but they’re here. They’re safe and they’re quiet, so it’s fine,” he said.

The Cathedral staff works closely with police to help make the space as safe as possible. Father Cattany said that some issues can be resolved by something as simple as a fence.

“We put up a fence around the courtyard at the recommendation of the Denver Police Department. They thought it would help stop drug trafficking, because traffickers will not go into a partially enclosed area because it’s hard to flee, and it has worked,” he said.

Father Cattany said that while people worshipping in the Cathedral must be safe, he also sees that the Cathedral must reach out the homeless.

“There are some in the neighborhood who criticize us for taking care of the poor because they say we’re attracting it. That’s wrong. We’re the Church. They should be welcome,” he said.

COMING UP: Q&A: How the Office of Child and Youth Protection helps keep kids safe

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Protecting kids should be one of the highest priorities of all youth-serving institutions and organizations. In 2002, following the breakout of a terrible scandal within the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened to create the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. To learn more about the Dallas Charter, check out this post.

One of the fruits of the Dallas Charter was the requirement that all dioceses in the U.S. create an office specifically for keeping kids safe. In the Archdiocese of Denver, we have the Office of Child and Youth Protection, which has been a key part of our diocese since shortly after the Dallas Charter was implemented. Headed by Christi Sullivan, who has a background in certified child protection training and has worked in the office for eight years, the Office of Child and Youth Protection has trained over 70,000 adults to recognize and report child abuse since 2002, and trains 20,000 to 25,000 kids on how to keep themselves safe each year.

We sat down with Christi to get a better idea of what she and her office do to make sure that the Church is among the safest places possible for children and youth.

Denver Catholic: What is the function of the Office of Child and Youth Protection?

Christi Sullivan: We train adults, children and adolescents to recognize and report possible abuse and neglect. We train between four and five thousand adults every year. In 2003, the first round of adult classes trained approximately 20,000 people. Since then, we have trained 4,000-5,000 adults every year.

Additionally, we train all the facilitators that provide safe environment training for the adults. I have roughly 250 facilitators in the diocese. We supply the curriculum that’s been promulgated by our archbishop and we also train parish staff and administer and maintain a database of 80,000 adults that have been trained since 2003. We also provide support and guidance for the 160+ entities and organizations in the diocese that work diligently to ensure they are safe environment compliant. We are available if they have questions or concerns about curriculum, reporting, background screening, the Code of Conduct or any concern regarding child safety.

DC: What is the process like if somebody has an allegation of abuse?

CS: If somebody has a suspicion of abuse or neglect with a child, at-risk-adult or elder, obviously they contact the authorities immediately. If the person is in imminent danger, they call 911. If it’s not an imminent danger situation, then they need to call 844-CO-4-KIDS for children or the county adult protective services office.

DC: How does your office intervene and assist?

CS: If they’re talking to me, it’s probably potentially a concern with somebody either who’s an employee or volunteer within the archdiocese. So, once the report to the authorities is made, we ask the report is made to us. Then we would follow up, when appropriate, when the authorities have finished their investigation and then we follow through with an investigation and take appropriate action, up to and including termination.
Also, Jim Langley is our victim assistance coordinator. If there’s anybody that just needs to speak to any kind of abuse or neglect situation, he’s available. St. Raphael’s Counseling through Catholic Charities is also available to help people.

DC: What is the process for somebody who wants to be safe environment trained?

CS: Anybody can go to a safe environment training anywhere in the archdiocese — they don’t have to be Catholic. And those are listed on my website, ArchDen.org/child-protection under “Find a Class”. I think right now we have about 20 classes in the next 30 days.

DC: Tell me about the curriculum you use.

CS: We’re going to soon have a new curriculum that’s more updated and current. The curriculum we have now is not irrelevant, the information is still incredibly relevant — Pedophiles have not changed their modus operandi. But the new curriculum is going to expand on that and include things like Internet safety, bullying, suicide awareness and other safety areas of concern for families, parents, mentors and ministries. It will also provide training for reporting at-risk-adult and elder abuse and neglect.

DC: Is this curriculum required in public schools?

CS: Safe environment training is not required in public schools in Colorado. Curriculum is available to public schools and has been for about three years now, but to my knowledge, the only school district that’s picked it up is Adams 12. Aurora public schools just started training teachers this year with their own custom curriculum, but they are not including parents and kids yet as they are still developing curricula for those groups.

DC: So this has been a norm in the Catholic Church and Catholic schools for 17 years.
CS: Yes.

DC: And for all of the other schools in the state, it’s not even required.

CS: No it is not. In 2015, Colorado introduced SB 15-020, a version of what is commonly known as Erin’s Law. The full version of the law was not passed as introduced, which would have required safe environment training for students, teachers and parents. After committee hearings, the final version of the law allowed for a new position of a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Specialist at the Colorado School Safety Resource Center and a reference booklet listing available curricula has been published, but the version of the law that passed does not require school districts and charter schools to include safe environment curriculum.

To learn more about the Office of Child and Youth Protection and attend a Safe Environment Training, visit archden.org/child-protection.