Cover-ups, transparency, and confidentiality

The Archdiocese of Denver’s new Clergy Misconduct Advisory Committee


Father R. Michael Dollins is the Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese of Denver.

When a priest is absent from a few weekends at a parish, it is natural for the parishioners to wonder where he is.
“Is he OK?” “Did he do something wrong?” “Why aren’t they telling us anything?”

Those aren’t new questions when a situation like this happens, but recently I have noticed there has been a heightened call for greater transparency in the Church, especially as historical sins that have long been hidden in the shadows have recently been brought into the light. In almost every aspect of our lives, there is a tension between what is private and what is public. Where is the line between being a trusted person who must keep something confidential, and a person who is involved in a cover-up?

If we are honest, we know that full disclosure of information is not appropriate for every situation. Discretion and privacy are a prudent part of how we live our lives, relate to friends and family, and conduct business. There are personal situations that simply must be kept private, and when confidential information remains confidential, this is not a cover-up. A cover-up is when information that ought to be known publicly is kept secret.

So when it comes to how we handle purported misconduct of priests and deacons, seeking to achieve “Reliable Confidentiality” may be a better standard than transparency.

An organization that practices Reliable Confidentiality is able to strike a balance between an appropriate level of privacy for those involved in an issue, while at the same time, adequately reassuring those who are concerned about the same issue that a satisfactory response will occur. When this happens, those involved in an issue feel they were treated in an equitable manner and those who are concerned feel that they can trust the organization and its processes.

In the area of clergy misconduct, and responding to new standards driven by the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Denver has recently instituted the Clergy Misconduct Advisory Committee (CMAC). This is a group of professional Catholics, mostly lay, whom the archbishop consults on matters of priest or deacon misconduct. NOTE: This does not include sexual misconduct with minors, as a separate process exists for this more serious issue. The CMAC is composed of a few senior priests (not in archdiocesan central leadership), mental health professionals, law enforcement members (current and retired), and finance specialists. They are granted full transparency into issues of misconduct and then offer counsel directly to the archbishop. Cases may include financial transgressions, inappropriate relationships with adults, or struggles with addictions.

Depending on the gravity and nature of the issue, the CMAC will also help guide the Archdiocese on what information needs to be shared publicly, and what should remain confidential. That said, it should be kept in mind that difficult issues often proceed slowly through a review process and what may be perceived as improper secrecy is, in reality, appropriate confidentiality.

Hopefully the CMAC will give the faithful confidence that the Archdiocese of Denver has responded to the alleged misconduct with appropriate seriousness and reparative measures, while still being able to maintain the right balance of privacy for all involved. Hopefully the CMAC will give the faithful confidence that the archdiocese is practicing Reliable Confidentially.

COMING UP: Late-term abortion ban reaches signature goal

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Late-term abortion ban reaches signature goal

Volunteers gathered nearly 50,000 signatures for Initiative 120 within two-week cure period

Aaron Lambert

In a final push, supporters of the initiative seeking to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks in the state of Colorado have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

During a two-week cure period granted after falling short of required signatures to get Initiative 120 on the ballot, over 400 volunteers worked diligently and collected over 48,000 signatures by May 28, nearly three times the amount sought during the cure period. The Due Date Too Late campaign spearheaded the charge to gather signatures with support from Catholic Charities’ Respect Life Office and other pro-life communities across the state.

“I am overjoyed to hear that so many Coloradans have signed the petition to successfully place Initiative 120 on the November ballot,” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, who expressed his support for the initiative early on. “Protecting children in the womb is an essential part of building a society that treats all life, no matter its age or ability, as sacred. God has given each person a dignity that comes from being made in his image and likeness, and the degree to which our laws reflect that will be the degree to which we experience true freedom and happiness.”

Initiative 120 would prohibit abortion in Colorado after 22 weeks, with an exception for the life of the mother. According to a recent Gallup poll, 74% of Americans believe that there should be limitations on late term abortion. Due Date Too Late submitted the bulk of the needed petition signatures in March but fell short 10,000 signatures after review by the Secretary of State. The cure period began on May 15, with Due Date Too Late needing to collect those 10,000 additional verified signatures of registered Colorado voters during the 15-day cure period to meet the 124,632 threshold and qualify for the November ballot.

“We are thrilled to take this next step towards protecting lives in Colorado by exceeding our goal of signatures we are turning into the Secretary of State,” said Lauren Castillo, spokesperson for the Due Date Too Late campaign. “We are thankful to have this opportunity to work together with communities across the entire state of Colorado. The hundreds of volunteers we have who are so passionate about ending late-term abortion are helping to make this a reality.”

Due Date Too Late will be turning in the notarized packets containing almost 50,000 signatures on May 29 at 2 p.m. to the office of the Secretary of State to assure that the ballot initiative will meet the statutory threshold.

The field collection effort by Due Date Too Late went forward amid a recent executive order by Gov. Jared Polis regarding how petition signatures may be collected. Under Gov. Polis’ order, he declared that ballot initiatives could gather signatures electronically in response to the coronavirus pandemic; however, Initiative 120 was the only ballot initiative that wasn’t allowed to collect signatures electronically because it was in a cure period.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated over 30,000 signatures were being turned in, based on the information that was available at the time of publication. The actual number is closer to 50,000. The story has been updated to reflect this fact.