Letter to the editor: The big picture on clerical sex abuse in the Church

The following is an unsolicited letter submitted by a reader.

As a father of two and a cradle Roman Catholic, I am disgusted with the abuse of children by clergy of our church. I am equally angry over the weak handling, at best, to an active cover-up of these crimes by our church leadership. Over my lifetime, I have struggled to consider this evil reality. It naturally makes you consider whether the Roman Catholic faith is the one, true faith.

Most priests are wonderful, hardworking, honest and holy men. Very, very few priests have ever hurt a child or committed any crime in their entire lifetime. These are facts that must be acknowledged before further discussion.

The impact of criminal offenders in the Catholic Church is most offensive due to the actual level of betrayal. Men whose hands were consecrated to carry out the holy sacrifice of the Mass went on to hurt the most defenseless in our midst. Even a single priest in a billion committing this sin is horrific. It is a repulsive betrayal of their sacred vows to serve God and man.

Archbishop Aquila is not telling us the whole story, nor should he. It would be inappropriate for Archbishop Aquila to comment on the contributing factors to the evils detailed in the Colorado abuse report. Any real leader in any organization does not look for excuses but takes full responsibility for his or her organization. I find no fault with the Archbishop for his transparency and aggressive work towards protecting our children and our Church.

I feel compelled to speak of some of the contributing factors to this evil. I have not been asked by anyone to write this essay. I don’t know how much any of the following came into play as a catalyst or contributing factor to the evils committed by Colorado Catholic clergy.

My intent is not to forgive or lessen the reality of the evils perpetrated. The criminals named in the report are at fault. What they did was pure evil. I do not want to be misinterpreted in any way as giving any excuse or explanation for the evils described in the report. However, by understanding the bigger picture even beyond the recently issued report, we can better defend our children and the Roman Catholic Church going forward.

Historically, the medical community played a role in not reporting complaints of abuse to law enforcement. The mechanisms today by which doctors report to law enforcement officials did not exist. Some medical professionals feared legal ramifications if they broke doctor/patient confidentiality even with good intent. Many psychiatrists and psychologists once believed they could cure pedophiles or homosexuals (homosexuality was once listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). After treatment and counseling, some doctors would advise Church leaders that an offender was now healthy or cured. In some cases, those same doctors would encourage Church leaders to return offenders to the same type of environment involving close and continuing contact with children. Today, this is widely viewed as malpractice. No responsible medical professional would encourage an alcoholic to search for employment as a bartender during or after completing rehabilitation for alcoholism.

Furthermore, laws regarding medical professionals, doctor/patient confidentiality and reporting to law enforcement have come a long way in the last 70 years. Reporting requirements are very strict and well known for medical, childcare and educational professionals. Those who come across any evidence of the possible abuse of children have a legal duty to report these concerns to authorities who will follow up.

Law enforcement in the United States 70 years ago was far different than today. Law enforcement officers did not have the same education and training. Today, most law enforcement agencies require a college degree and some work experience prior to hiring. Psychological screening and thorough background investigations screen out many who are unsuitable for police work due to integrity or emotional deficits. A rigorous course of study and further evaluation in a police academy also works to ensure high-quality law enforcement officers protect the community.

Law enforcement failed in many cases by not having the capability or skill in response to complaints. The public also knew confidentiality could be a real issue if they came forward to police. Many knew the police would allow the church to handle allegations of criminal conduct as an internal church issue. Today, there are very little of these professional and procedural lapses on the part of law enforcement. Law enforcement officers now investigate claims of criminal conduct much more effectively. A religious, educational or medical facility can no longer easily blow off law enforcement by saying a complaint is “an internal matter.”

Journalists seem to have decreased in integrity even further over the last 70 years. How can this deter criminal conduct in the church? Many journalists today have such a visceral hatred for religion that they aggressively look for stories to paint a religious institution in a poor light. This pressure, while being motivated less about protecting children, can be a strong deterrent to anyone thinking of using the priesthood as a cover for their criminal conduct. Many journalists salivate over the idea of writing a negative story about any religion or clergy.

All of this is to say that social media, journalists, law enforcement, doctors and the legal profession are all trip wires to ensure that any allegations of sexual abuse in any institution are handled in a more thorough and responsible manner today. No institution, the Church and parishes included, have the option to handle anything “quietly” today.

The preceding are some contributing factors that Archbishop Aquila will never try to use as an excuse. Some misdeeds were simply evil with no contributing factors. Others were the wrong actions taken for some semblance of a noble intention. Some were taken in some twisted sense of mercy for either the criminal or victim. They were failures but should be considered in some context for the sake of awareness and understanding. This will help us in vigilance going forward.

The Roman Catholic Church is all about forgiveness and the goal of bringing souls to heaven. This can allow dangerous rationalizations in some cases. Many bishops wrongly made the decision to cover up criminal conduct to protect the faith and trust of whole congregations. In hindsight, those same leaders certainly must see that the best response would have been swift, thorough, honest and transparent investigation of any criminal allegations. How could they make such a wrong choice? One must remember the times in which they lived. As mentioned, the politics, societal norms, medical guidance and realities of the legal community were all different. Many times, our clergy may have wanted to believe the doctors. Who wouldn’t want to believe an offender was healed and ready to return to full duty in a parish?

I struggle with how high leadership in the Roman Catholic Church have not done more to punish or report criminals. At times, I fall back upon the understanding that all human organizations have those that will betray and commit horrific crimes. The FBI, CIA, Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, childcare providers, the military, schools and all other human organizations have had evil doers. This is no reason to throw up our hands and declare any of these institutions as inherently evil.

I wish we could say the Roman Catholic Church was absolutely perfect, but we must remember that even one of the twelve went on to betray Jesus directly. My thoughts here should not bring anyone any comfort. My only intention is to discuss the bigger picture to increase understanding and vigilance. Hopefully some will also read this, pray and then acknowledge that the Roman Catholic Church still is the one, true faith.

We need to be careful not to look at all priests as potential criminals. While vigilance among all the faithful is necessary, we must support and pray for our priests daily. They deserve as much for all they do for God and His kingdom on earth.

Matthew Hayes,
Greenwood Village, CO

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit: https://www.cocatholicconference.org/2021-legislative-bills-analysis/  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 

HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.