Denver Catholic readers share stories from WYD ‘93

Denver Catholic Staff

“I was very young during World Youth Day 93 — maybe five or six years old. I lived in a neighborhood adjacent to Cherry Creek State Park and remember the setup for the event. Driving on Belleview east along the park border, I remember seeing lines and lines of porta-potties, thinking that it was amazing to need so many toilets for all the folks who would be there. I remember my grandfather pointing to Butterfly Hill and saying, ‘That’s where the pope is going to be! He’s going to stand right there!’ My parents, sister and I lived with my grandfather in his small house, but its size didn’t stop my grandfather from being generous during the event. He had gone to King Soopers and started talking to a Canadian priest who was buying groceries. He had traveled in a conversion van to the event with his brother and brother’s friend. They didn’t have a place to stay and had just planned on camping or sleeping in the van. My grandfather opened our house to them, and they camped on our floor and couches for a couple of days. I don’t even remember the priest’s name, but I remember that they were very excited and happy to be welcomed in Denver for the event. I always think of them, and of the pope ‘standing right there!’ each time I drive down Belleview past the park.”
-Pearl Dailey, Centennial

“My husband and I both attended World Youth Day, as young Catholics in the metro area, but didn’t know each other at the time. I believe our both attending and the blessings of St. John Paul had a hand in bringing us together and continuing the faith in our family. St. John Paul has a lasting and profound impact in our lives.”
-Stephanie Danaher, Aurora

I remember my grandfather pointing to Butterfly Hill and saying, ‘That’s where the pope is going to be! He’s going to stand right there!’”

“World Youth Day 1993 was an unbelievable experience. I was thrilled to find out that the pope would be in “my own backyard,” [and] this experience helped fuel my young faith. As a 20-year-old, I didn’t know what to expect but I was open to whatever the Lord had in store for me. I was proud to be a part of this large gathering of Catholic young people and I was inspired to participate in four more world youth days. World Youth Day Denver helped inspire a love for pilgrimage and a respect for the universal church in all of her glory. However, before this love was developed I was able to participate in WYD ‘93 in Denver. At the time I was playing Rugby and occasionally attending classes at Metro state and at the pilgrimage mass, one of my buddies found me and he told me he had heard about the event on the news and he decided he had to come to see what it was all about. I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t even know that you were Catholic,’ but even if he wasn’t, he understood the importance of WYD and what it meant for us to be a host city. I attribute this directly to the dynamic leadership and connections to the youth that St. John Paul the Great had as our pope and as one of three saints to touch the streets of Denver (Mother Cabrini and Mother Teresa). We truly live in a sacred space that should not be taken for granted.  The beauty of the pope in my hometown, a love of my church, and pilgrimage, the beauty of my home city and a love for this fantastic saint are some of the bountiful gifts of WYD ‘93.”
-Tom Thomason, Denver

St. John Paul has a lasting and profound impact in our lives.”

“I was so excited to attend the Mass done by the Holy Father. I volunteered to take the overnight shift at Our Lady of Fatima to chaperone those youth that had traveled from all over the world to participate in World Youth Day. I had only had about 4 hours of sleep prior to this event due to my work & family schedule. I had the overnight shift the night before the Mass at Cherry Creek State Park. I left the church at 5 a.m. went home packed up my car, took my kids to their grandparents (they were very young) and headed to pick up a couple of people who also wanted to attend. I was going on pure love!!! Nothing was going to stop me from my one any only chance to attend a Mass done by a pope! Oh, how lucky I was to be there with the Great John Paul II. Even though I was nowhere near close to meeting him I was happy just to be in his presence as he shared our Lord with the thousands of other faithful.”
-Tamara Abad, Denver

“I remember arriving on the dewy grounds of Cherry Creek Reservoir before sunrise among crowds of other bundled-up worshippers. It was beautiful watching the sunrise and hearing the words of our Holy Father. As a keepsake of that memorable morning, I carried home a type of touchstone…one of the hundreds of groundstakes that were used to mark blocked off areas for people to sit while allowing walkways in the open field. Once home, I used my little craft saw to make individual crosses for myself and our sons. I still have mine 25 years later as my token from that spectacular morning.”
-Deb DesMarteau, Centennial

I was proud to be a part of this large gathering of Catholic young people and I was inspired to participate in four more world youth days.”

“My parents took me to WYD 1993 in Denver when I was nine years old. I had no idea what was really happening, but I could tell it was important and exciting. I remember the large crowds of people lining the streets, and I remember the gathering that we attended at McNichols arena. The place was packed and everybody was waiting for Pope John Paul II. I didn’t know who he was, but I will never forget when he entered the arena dressed in white and everybody started cheering. I even remember seeing tears in some people’s eyes. I asked my dad, ‘Who is that?’ And my dad bent down to me and said, ‘That’s the pope.’ I can still feel the power of that revelation of the Vicar of Christ echoing in my heart. In some mysterious way that moment is tied up in my vocation to the priesthood.”
-Father Ryan O’Neill, Vocations Director

COMING UP: Opinion: There is cause for hope amid dire reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors

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By Vincent Carroll

This Dec. 13, 2019 opinion column was originally published by the Denver Post.

When will it end, many Catholics must wearily wonder. And not only Catholics. Anyone who reads or listens to the news must wonder when the Catholic church sex scandals will ever be over.

But in one major sense, the crisis already has passed and what we’re witnessing — and will continue to witness for years — is the aftermath.

To see what I mean, go to Appendix 4 in the report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Colorado issued in October by investigators led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. There’s a bar graph highlighting the “number of victims by decade the abuse or misconduct began.” Towering above all other decades for the archdiocese of Denver is the bar for the 1960s, representing 74 victims. In second place is the 1970s with 25 victims, and the 1950s is third with 14. The 1990s had 11 victims and the 1980s three.

As the report observes, “Roman Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Colorado peaked in the 1960s and appears to have declined since. In fact, the last of the Colorado child sex abuse incidents we saw in the files were 1 in July 1990 and 4 in May 1998.”

In other words, nearly 70 percent of all the abuse documented in the attorney general’s report within the Denver archdiocese occurred a half-century or more ago.

Denver’s history differs somewhat from the national experience, but not wildly so. Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded in 2004 after examining the national data on accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002 that “more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade.” The 1960s were also atrocious years for Catholic youth and so was the first half or so of the 1980s.

It appears that accusations in the years since have held to the same chronological profile. Mark Gray, a survey researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, reported recently that CARA has analyzed 8,694 accusations of abuse made between 2004 and 2017 (compared to 10,667 earlier allegations studied by John Jay researchers). The result: The distribution of cases is “nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results.”

In other words, a large majority of the accusations of abuse that have surfaced in this century are also dated to the horrible era of 1960 to 1985.

This pattern even holds for incidents in last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, although news coverage often left the impression that it recounted a fresh flood of new incidents. The report’s scope and details were certainly new and devastating, but most (not all) of the incidents and perpetrators were old (or dead). Those accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania report, for example, were on average “ordained as priests in 1961,” according to Gray.

Given this context, it’s hardly surprising that “the most prolific clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” according to the special investigator’s report, namely Father Harold Robert White, was also ordained in 1961.  His depredations “continued for at least 21 years,” the heyday of sexual abuse and church complacency, during which time he “sexually abused at least 63 children.”

Chilling.

I am perfectly aware that the Colorado investigation hardly exhausts the number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It covers diocesan priests but not those who served in religious orders. Records are likely incomplete and some perhaps destroyed. And the actual number of victims certainly exceeds the number who have come forward.

There is also the question of a reporting time lag — the fact that victims often don’t muster the courage to come forward for years. But if this had been a major factor in the reduced number of incidents after 1985 at the time of John Jay College’s 2004 report, that number would surely have seen a disproportionate surge by now. And yet it has not.

The authors of the state investigation emphasize that they are unable to reliably say that “no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998,” and warn against concluding that clergy child sexual abuse is “solved” given ongoing weaknesses they outline regarding how the church handles allegations.

Their caution is understandable given the church’s history in the past century (in the report’s words) of “silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism,” and their recommendations to strengthen the diocese’s procedures are for the most part on point. But it is also true that child sexual abuse will never be “solved” in the sense of it being eradicated — not in religious denominations, and not in schools, daycare centers, scout troops, youth sports, and juvenile social service and detention facilities, to cite just some of the venues that predators unfortunately exploit and where an accounting for the lax standards of the past has not been undertaken.

John Jay College researchers also released a followup study in 2011 in which they noted, “the available evidence suggests that sexual abuse in institutional settings . . .  is a serious and underestimated problem, although it is substantially understudied.” Meanwhile, “no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church.”

Early this month, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned from the Buffalo Diocese over gross mishandling of sexual abuse claims. He likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, Catholics still await the Vatican’s promised explanation for how defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly preyed on seminarians for decades, could have been promoted time and again. Is there any credible defense?

So the bad news hasn’t stopped. But behavior in the priestly trenches actually is much improved, and that is surely cause for hope.

Email Vincent Carroll at [email protected]