Independent Review Report: A message from Archbishop 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: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”