Ignore God’s goodness at your own risk

Archbishop Aquila

In these times of trial, it is easy to forget or overlook the stories of faith, joy and vibrant life that are a part of the fabric of our Church. The Psalms remind us, it is essential to “call to mind the deeds of the Lord” and to “remember his wonders” (Psalm 77:11), since failing to do so can lead to despair and a hardened heart. To help us all celebrate God’s goodness, I would like to recall a few moments where I’ve seen it recently.

As 2019 began, I had the privilege to see and be a part of one of God’s wonders. After spending several days on retreat with my fellow bishops at Mundelein Seminary, I made the short trip from Chicago to Indianapolis, where the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was holding its biennial SEEK conference for students wanting to encounter Jesus and seek the truth.

It’s hard to describe the energy and enthusiasm that the more than 17,000 students from 626 campuses brought to the event, but a few moments from the gathering might give you a glimpse of the experience.

Saturday night, the vast conference room was filled with young people adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and coming to him for healing in reconciliation. In the words of Amy Gasper, who spoke to The Criterion, “You get to see how hungry people are for the Lord. It makes my heart leap for joy.”

I had the privilege of hearing confessions for over two hours and seeing the healing Jesus brought to young people as they heard the words of absolution pronounced over them. They experienced the mercy and tenderness of Jesus welcoming them home and the great joy in heaven over one repentant sinner.

During the Mass on Sunday morning, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, I encouraged the young people in attendance to allow the grace of their relationship with Christ, the light of Christ in them, to overcome the darkness that the world and the Church are experiencing. What I said in my homily applies to everyone: “Jesus can heal any wound. He can restore any disorder. He can bring light into darkness.”  We must put our faith, our full trust and confidence in Jesus!

A few days later, I spoke from the west steps of the Colorado Capitol to a crowd of energetic, joyful pro-lifers from northern Colorado and beyond who came to stand up for the unborn at the Celebrate Life March. Despite the snow storm just a day before, thousands of people cheered the witness of the McGarrity family, who have eight children, four of them with Down Syndrome. The crowd cheered their generous embrace of life and laughed along with the excited shouts from their kids.

A short while later, downtown Denver witnessed doctors, nurses, moms, dads, children, a mariachi band, Native American dancers and so many others marching through its streets to publicly support life at every stage, from conception to natural death.

Then on Friday, Jan. 18, the nation witnessed what organizers called the largest pro-life March for Life in recent memory. By and large, most of the people marching were from Catholic parishes, schools, universities and apostolates. The march had a strong presence of young people, a palpable atmosphere of love, a sense of unity and hope.

The message of hope was also present in Pope Francis’ words during the Jan. 16 General Audience, in which he reflected on the Lord’s Prayer and the fact that God’s love for us is not impacted by our sins and shortcomings. “God is looking for you, even if you do not seek Him,” he said to the crowd. “God loves you, even if you have forgotten about Him. God sees beauty in you, even if you think you have squandered all your talents in vain.”

We need to adopt God’s view of ourselves and the Church, asking him for the grace to see and love as he does. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, bringing healing to those in darkness and encouraging people to shine the light of Christ in the world. The evil one would like us to wallow in despair and convince us that things are hopeless.  Place your hope in Jesus and turn to him for healing. You will not be disappointed, and then you will become the light of the world!

Featured image provided by FOCUS

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.