Ahead of bishops’ meeting, we need your prayer and fasting

Archbishop Aquila

Since ancient times, people have used the stars to navigate through the expanse of the sea or over unknown terrain.  As the bishops of the United States prepare to address the difficult topic of clergy sex abuse at our annual meeting in two weeks, I invite all Catholics to join us in praying and fasting that our deliberations will be guided by Christ, the light that shines forth in the darkness.

Some of you might know the story of Steven Callahan, a naval architect and sailor who survived 76 days floating across the Atlantic Ocean after his boat was damaged beyond repair in a storm. During his ordeal, he used the stars to determine where he was to navigate toward land, while also using his survival skills to obtain food and water. His story is one of courage, creativity and perseverance in the face of very long odds.

During these difficult times the Church is enduring because of the abuse crisis, my fellow bishops and I, as well as all believers, need similar virtues. Most importantly, we must orient ourselves toward the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our anchor and sure refuge in the storm. We must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and fidelity to Christ and his Gospel.

For that reason, we bishops are devoting ourselves to seven days of prayer and fasting between Nov. 5 and 11, in anticipation of our annual fall bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. These two forms of penance allow us to draw closer to Christ, seek conversion and in a small way make reparation for the evil that has been committed.

In the Scriptures, Jesus explained that prayer and fasting were necessary to drive out a deaf and mute spirit that the disciples could not cast out (Mk. 9:29). Similarly, these acts of penance will help provide the spiritual groundwork for the Spirit of Truth to prevail at our meeting.

I have already invited the priests of the archdiocese to join Bishop Rodriguez and I in fasting and praying for the upcoming meeting during these specific days, but I want to also extend the same invitation to all the faithful of the archdiocese.

There are three specific intentions that I ask you to join us in praying for: for the healing and support of all victims and survivors of clergy abuse; for the conversion and just punishment of the perpetrators and concealers of clergy abuse; and for the Holy Spirit to guide all the bishops in responding to the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse in the Church.

Much like a person who is lost at sea and longing for rescue, every Catholic should ask God for the gifts of hope and gratitude to carry us to safe harbor. We should cultivate those virtues by giving thanks for the fact that Jesus remains with us in this trial through the sacraments and by recalling that despite fallible bishops, priests and lay people, the Good News that Jesus died and rose to save us from our sins is still true.

When he celebrated Mass for the Feast of All Souls last week, Pope Francis described the outlook that I pray will be yours and mine. “May we never lose hope,” he said, “always contemplating the horizon, always looking ahead. May God grant us the grace to recognize the lights that accompany us to where he awaits us with so much love.”

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.