Colorado religious leaders gather for Faithful Tuesdays to advance eradication of racism and support just economy, equity 

In an attempt to add a deeper moral dimension to the public policy making in Colorado, leaders from different religious institutions in the state, including the Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodriguez, gathered Feb. 5 at the Colorado State Capitol to commence the Faithful Tuesdays program, which will host different religious leaders throughout the 2019 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly to address topics seeking the advancement of a collaborative process in support for a just economy, equity and the eradication of racism.

The event gathered the presence of the Colorado Catholic Conference, the Colorado Council of Churches, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Together Colorado and leaders from different faiths.

Bishop Rodriguez, who spoke on the eradication of racism, called the topic “a very timely subject,” referring to the recent pastoral letter against racism released by the USCCB under the title Open Wide Our Hearts – The Enduring Call to Love; and said that this eradication was in part a duty of all religious leaders.

“Racism is a sin that divides the human family and violates human dignity.  As faith leaders we are called to be consistent voices calling for the eradication of racism in our communities,” Bishop Rodriguez said.  “We all have a duty to recognize that our various faith traditions call on us to break down the walls created by the evils of racism, whether that evil is displayed publicly for all to see or buried deep in the recesses of our hearts.  If we don’t heed this call, we are destined for history to continue to repeat itself.”

The USCCB pastoral letter states: “Racism arises when — either consciously or unconsciously — a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity, it is sinful. Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love (Mt 22:39).”

Bishop Rodriguez underlined that in order to respond appropriately to this problem, it is necessary to listen to those who have experienced it first hand, whose story would not only convince religious leaders of its reality, but also allow them to promote justice with empathy.

“We must create occasions to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply engraved on the lives of our brothers and sisters, if we are to be moved with empathy to promote justice,” he said. “Racism is a moral problem that requires a moral remedy – a transformation of the human heart – that compels us to act.  The power of this type of transformation will be a strong catalyst in eliminating those injustices that impinge on human dignity.”

Quoting the USCCB pastoral letter, Bishop Rodriguez called to mind the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the civil rights movement, which brought together Catholics, Protestants and Jews — and called on all people of faith to continue in the same tradition.

“It is my prayer that all people of good will join together to strive for the eradication of racism in all its forms,” he concluded. “For there is no place for racism in the hearts of any person; it is a perversion of the Lord’s will for men and women, all of who were made in God’s likeness and image.”

Jenny Kraska, Executive Director of the Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), told the Denver Catholic that in the fight for the dignity of life from conception to natural death, the CCC also fights for the rights of those in life who “fall through the cracks.”

“It’s [about] promoting the dignity of every human person… A lot of the legislation that we’re focused on looks at the lives of immigrants in our community, the lives of those who are most in need, homeless people,” Kraska said. “I think sometimes people in those segments in society fall through the cracks, and it’s up to us as a faith community to show legislators that every human life has dignity.”

Rabbi Joseph Black from Temple Emanuel in Denver spoke on moral economy and emphasized the need for people of faith to speak up against such injustices in society.

“As people of faith we see the world from a prism of relationships… We believe that it is important to live in community and that our lives are intertwined. And as a result, we are responsible for one another,” he said. “To state that we are people of faith means that we are compelled and commanded to speak whenever we see injustice… that we cannot be silent when we see inequities in housing, employment, wages, healthcare, childcare and a myriad of other ills that plague our city, states and nation.”

Bishop Jerry Demmer, from the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, spoke about equity referring to the image of Lady Justice and the Book of Revelation.

“Lady Justice has often been depicted as wearing a blind fold. The blind fold represents impartiality, the idea that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power or even status,” he said. “To have true equity we have to understand what the Bible teaches. And the Bible lets us know in Revelation 7:9, John said, ‘I saw a number that no man can number of all races, kindreds, tongues and nations of people.’ So, when we begin to understand equity, we understand that we have to come together and work together as one people, and then we understand what real equity is.”

The following Tuesday meetings will take place at the Colorado State Capital from noon to 1 p.m. and will address criminal justice, the death penalty and homelessness, respectively.

Featured image by Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

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.