Fasting, weeping and mourning for the Church

Archbishop Aquila

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:12-13).

With these verses from the Prophet Joel, the Church began the observance of Lent on Ash Wednesday. These 40 days are dedicated to purifying our hearts, seeking the Lord’s grace to turn back to him and preparing for Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. In a sense, Lent encompasses the journey of the whole Christian life within 40 days. We experience the bitterness of sin and its consequences, reach out to God for help and receive the gift of resurrection in return.

These days the Church is undergoing purification on a much larger scale. As we become increasingly aware of the impact and reach of sexual abuse in the Church and in society, the need for all Catholics and people of good will to reach out to God the Father for his healing and forgiveness becomes apparent.

During 2018, I celebrated four Masses at the Cathedral in reparation for the sins committed by clergy and continue to do so in private Masses. I pray for all those who have been sexually abused. After the liturgies were over, I heard from survivors who weren’t abused by priests but had been victimized by others. They were very grateful for the chance to pray for healing and to hear others praying for them as well. The action of God’s grace in helping people to forgive those who hurt them was evident.

In meetings with other survivors, I have seen the same thing happen. It is only when they forgive their persecutors – as Jesus modeled for us from the Cross – that they find lasting freedom and healing.

As I mentioned in my last column, the three dioceses of Colorado have entered into an agreement with the Attorney General and are working towards the launch of a victim’s compensation program to facilitate the healing process.

Yet we cannot neglect the importance of God’s grace and guidance in this process either. That is why I have established the First Friday of Lent as a day of prayer and fasting in the archdiocese, from this year going forward. I invite you to join in this day of penance for the healing of survivors of sexual abuse and in reparation for the sins committed against them, especially those perpetrated against minors.

Recently I have read excerpts from The Book of Gomorrah (Liber Gomorrhianus) by St. Peter Damian, a Benedictine monk who lived between 1007 and 1072. His book was written to Pope St. Leo IX during a time when the clergy were morally lax, and the authority of kings and the Church’s leaders was collapsing. St. Peter Damian’s book reminds us that sin is not a modern problem, while also underscoring that God can truly heal the effects of sin.

As an archdiocese, we must continue our efforts to bring healing to abuse survivors and Lent provides the perfect opportunity. Over these 40 days, let us keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus Christ and pray specifically for the personal and collective healing and conversion of our Church.

May God the Father help us grow in holiness, so that every person will come to know the healing love of Jesus Christ who “was wounded for our transgressions [and] bruised for our iniquities…with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Featured image by Kamil Szumotalski | Unsplash

COMING UP: Seeking healing and justice for survivors

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Last year I made a promise that the Archdiocese of Denver would be transparent about our handling, prevention and response to the sexual abuse of minors by priests. We have been working to continue to deliver on that promise, and this week has brought forth two fruits of that effort.

After months of dialogue with Colorado’s former and current Attorney General, the three dioceses of Colorado have voluntarily entered into a joint agreement that will result in an independent review of priest personnel files. This review will be entrusted to an independent “special master,” former United States Attorney Robert Troyer, who will comb through the files to determine which priests have received substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against a minor. Those who fit this description will then have their names made public in a report.

This will also be an important opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of our historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests and for a review of our current policies and procedures. We are confident in our track record over the past few decades, the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no current accusations against any of our priests. At the same time, we hope this announcement will move anyone who has been harmed to come forward. 

The Archdiocese of Denver and the Attorney General’s office were able to reach this agreement because we share common goals: justice and healing for survivors, accountability, transparency and the need for the facts about our track record to be more widely known.

I also hope that this independent file review will help bring justice to our 300 active priests, whose fruitful and sacrificial ministry is too often unfairly tarnished by the sins of a small group of priests that came before them. It is worth noting that our priests have been supportive and instrumental in the process of implementing the safe environment protocols that have made our parishes and ministries far safer than they were prior to 2002.

In conjunction with the independent file review, the three Colorado dioceses are also launching a survivor compensation program like the effort undertaken by Archbishop Chaput in 2006. While the archdiocese has been assisting victims for years, I strongly desired to extend this outreach further to try to bring some measure of healing to those who have been harmed.

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. And while money can’t heal wounds, it can acknowledge the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to the survivors. 

The survivor compensation program will be administered by a national mediation expert, Mr. Kenneth Feinberg, and his colleague, Ms. Camille Biros. Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros will receive allegations from those who were abused as minors by priests or bishops and will impartially determine what assistance is needed to help these survivors. Their work will be entirely independent of the archdiocese and will be overseen by an independent committee of respected Coloradans and national experts.  The chairman of that committee will be former U.S. Senator Hank Brown.

It’s important for Catholics to know that the costs of this program will be covered by archdiocesan assets and reserves. No funds from ministries or charities at your parish, the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, or Catholic Charities will be used for this program.

While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, I pray that it will at least begin the healing process.

Despite the sins of the Church’s members, we must remember that Jesus is the ultimate source of healing for every wound. The words of St. Mother Teresa, who spent her life caring for the suffering, come to mind. “Bring all your suffering to [Jesus] … only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest.”

Please visit Archden.org/Promise for updates on the full the details of the file review and survivor compensation program.