Independent Review Report: A message from Archbishop Aquila

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We must face the past and learn from it, and we must know if our children are safe today. Thanks to our ongoing vigilance, they are.

A year ago, I made a promise that the Archdiocese of Denver would not hide from the past and must face the historical sexual abuse of minors by its diocesan priests. In February I wrote to you, advising you that we were working with the Attorney General’s office to invite an independent third-party investigator, former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer, to conduct an independent review of all three dioceses in Colorado. The scope of that work is documented in a written agreement, which is published on our website and the Attorney General’s website, and anyone who reads that document will understand it was a sweeping investigation.

I want to thank Attorney General Phil Weiser, and Mr. Troyer for their efforts to work with us to protect children. This was not an easy task for anyone involved.

THE REPORT

Mr. Troyer’s review is now complete, and his written report covers 70 years of files and allegations of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1950. Mr. Troyer interviewed survivors, priests, experts, victim advocates, safe environment staff, and others as part of his investigation and fact-finding efforts. He met with experts in the field of child abuse prevention. In addition, the Attorney General’s office set up a phone line and encouraged survivors to come forward. New survivors came forward. We should all be comforted that this investigation spanned seven decades, has been thorough and is transparent.

I promised without reservation that I would openly share his report and adopt his recommendations.

I honor that promise today.

THE SURVIVORS

I want to start by addressing the courage of the survivors who have shared the stories of their abuse. As a result of the Attorney General and Church’s shared efforts to have this issue investigated and a report published, several survivors have come forward for the first time and more are likely to come forward in the days ahead. We recognize how difficult it is for survivors of abuse to share their stories, and we thank all of you for your courage.

If any survivor wishes to meet with me personally, my door is open. I have met with many survivors, and from these heart-wrenching personal interactions, I know there are no words that I can say that will take away the pain.

However, I want to be clear that on behalf of myself and the Church, I apologize for the pain and hurt that this abuse has caused. I am sorry about this horrible history — but it is my promise to continue doing everything I can so it never happens again. My sincere hope is that this report provides some small measure of justice and healing.

It is my promise to continue doing everything I can so it never happens again.” – Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

As we all read about the abuse of the past, it is easy to become angry at the abusers and those who protected them, and deeply saddened at the damage these perpetrators inflicted on children. Indeed, two priests, Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie, account for over 60% of all the victims in the report. These two men devastated dozens of victims and their families. Fourteen years ago, in 2006, the Archdiocese of Denver established a program for victims of priests to come forward, and more than 50 victims came forward and received financial compensation. More have come forward since then. I commit to you through the independent compensation program jointly opened two weeks ago — by all three dioceses in Colorado — that we are here to help you if you were abused by one of these two priests or any other diocesan priest.

VIGILANCE

One of the important goals of this independent review was to determine whether our children are safe — whether there are diocesan priests in ministry with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. From his review, Mr. Troyer identified no diocesan priests in active ministry in the Archdiocese with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor. His report also found no substantiated reports of sexual abuse of minors by diocesan priests in the Archdiocese within the past 20 years. Consistent with every study of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church — over 85% of the reported cases examined by Mr. Troyer are from the 1970’s or earlier. The last substantiated incident of abuse across all three dioceses was 1998 (and that priest is in prison and the case was handled properly by the Archdiocese). The horror of this abuse is something we must learn from, and for me it culminates in a single word. VIGILANCE.

Before I turn to the need for vigilance, please, I urge you, for the innocent priests who serve you and this community every day and who have suffered this scandal, for the parents in our schools, for all of those in our parishes and programs, for our volunteers and for every good-intentioned person in Colorado, maintain focus on the fact that the review identifies no substantiated allegations of abuse in the last 20 years and found no diocesan priest in active ministry with a substantiated claim of abuse. We are truly blessed with the priests in our Archdiocese! As I have read the report and revisit the historical abuse from decades ago, I have kept this progress in the front of my mind.

Now we must learn from the suffering of the victims and never assume that we could not face another perpetrator in our midst. Just in the last few years it has become even more apparent that perpetrators infect every organization, the Boy Scouts, the public schools, the Olympics, news organizations, colleges — these abusers can manifest in every part of our lives if we are not alert and responsive. We, more than any organization in this Country, know we must be vigilant.

PREVENTION

The Archdiocese believes strongly in the prevention and reporting polices we’ve implemented and strengthened since 1991, but we welcomed an independent review to identify any weaknesses or gaps that could be addressed. Since the Dallas Charter of 2002, we have trained 84,000 priests, deacons, employees and volunteers on how to identify signs of abuse or neglect and on their obligations as mandatory reporters. Every year, approximately 22,000 children are trained how to identify inappropriate conduct by adults and how they can report it. We require all priests to sign a sexual misconduct policy and attend training. It is efforts like these that make me grateful to our Office of Child and Youth Protection and the more than one hundred thousand lay Catholics that make our environments safe.

Importantly, Mr. Troyer found our safe environment training programs to be effective. But, given his experience and work on this project, he recommended that our investigation of reported abuse should be done by independent trained investigators and the process needs to be more victim-centered. We are committed to continuing to improve our response to anyone who comes forward to report sexual abuse as a minor, and specifically those that come forward when they are adults and their abusers were removed from ministry or died a long time ago. We know we have been able to help many people, but we will listen and learn from those who came forward and felt they weren’t treated appropriately. Indeed, we will follow all of Mr. Troyer’s recommendations and are already working to implement changes. I plan to personally be involved in that effort and will be in continued contact with Mr. Troyer and the Attorney General to make sure our collaboration to protect children is ongoing.

REASSERTING THE PROMISE

To close, I will remind you that a year ago, as your Archbishop, I made a series of public promises to ensure the sins of the past are not repeated. Today I stand by those promises and reassert my commitment to them further:

• Allegations of sexual abuse of a minor will continue to always be properly reported to local authorities.
• I will continue to immediately remove a member of the clergy or any other church worker from active ministry during an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.
• I will continue to take very seriously all reported incidents of misconduct by members of the clergy or other Church workers, and we will investigate even non-criminal misconduct with great diligence.
• I will continue to never transfer a member of the clergy who is under investigation.
• I will continue to remove from ministry permanently and without the ability to be transferred to any other Catholic institution, any member of the clergy who is found to have had sexual misconduct with a minor.
• I will continue to hold us accountable for addressing misconduct whenever we are made aware of it.
• I demand and will continue to enforce a strict and diligent screening process for all seminary applicants.

Sexual abuse is a societal problem and there is no single answer or single action to eliminate all sexual abuse, but we will not rest in our efforts to protect children. We will use our resources and community partnerships to be a leader in this area, and we will strive to improve. For a full list of my promises to you, and for additional information about the report, please visit archden.org/promise.

Please join me in praying for all survivors, their families, and our communities, and for our ongoing efforts to bring healing and reconciliation to the survivors of sexual abuse.

In Christ,

 

 

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L.
Archbishop of Denver

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.