Life in the balance

Archbishop Aquila

This past weekend close to 4,000 people rallied at the Colorado capitol building to encourage our state to protect life at every stage. It was a beautiful sight to see so many people willing to stand up for the vulnerable – whether they are unborn children or people bravely facing a terminal illness.

Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has spoken of the “throw-away” mentality that has come to characterize not just how we relate to things but to people. At his March 4, 2015 general audience he said, “a certain culture of profit insists on making the elderly appear to be a burden, an extra weight. They are not only unproductive; they are an encumbrance, and are to be discarded. And discarding them is sinful. We do not dare to say this openly, but it happens.”

This profit-driven approach is apparent in cases like that of Barbara Wagner or Randy Stroup’s. Both of these people were sent letters by Oregon’s state-run health plan stating that it would not provide cancer treatment drugs but would pay for doctor-assisted suicide.

The same attitude lies behind the push to kill the unborn, the disabled, and those who are suffering – even if it’s done in the name of mercy.  How many times have we heard the argument, ‘This child is going to be disabled, so we should abort it,’ or, ‘This elderly woman is suffering from terminal cancer and feels like she is a burden on her family. She should be allowed to end her life.’

St. John Paul II insightfully pointed out another aspect of the disposable culture in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, where he said that the mindset behind abortion involves a “hedonistic mentality” that is “unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality” and regards procreation as “an obstacle to personal fulfilment” (Cf. EV, 13).

In other words, the throw-away culture is being driven by a mentality that is both self-centered and profit-centered, and the consequence of this is that all suffering is seen as an obstacle to real fulfillment.

The same can be said for the arguments being advanced by those seeking to legalize doctor-prescribed death. In the name of a false understanding of freedom and “death with dignity,” lawmakers and lobbyists argue that certain circumstances mean life has lost its value. They seem to believe that some disabilities or types of suffering stand in the way of being fulfilled and that the solution is to end that person’s life.

Pope Francis has rightly said that the fear of being weak and vulnerable is the driving force behind this argument, not a desire for freedom or true dignity. As Catholics, we know that true dignity comes from being a son or daughter of the Father and that no amount of suffering, disability, or circumstance can take that away.

We also can see this is true on a purely human level, since each of us can think of a time when we suffered in some way that made us a stronger, better person. The same thing is true of suffering in the face of death, those final moments when God is able to refine us and prepare us for our judgement.

As Colorado’s legislators consider House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 25 – the two bills that aim to legalize doctor-prescribed death – I urge you to consider what adopting the throw-away culture would do to our state. We Coloradans pride ourselves on being people who are welcoming, hospitable and caring, but if these bills become law, we will saying that certain types of lives can be discarded.

During his March 4 audience, Pope Francis gave voice to gravity of this decision, saying, “We are all a little fragile, the elderly. Some, however, are particularly weak, many are alone, and affected by illness. … Will we abandon them to their fate? A society without closeness, in which gratuitousness and selfless affection — even among strangers — are disappearing, is a perverse society.”

The Colorado I know is a place that comforts the afflicted and is close to those in need. Please join me in contacting our state representatives to speak up for the vulnerable and safeguarding the values of our state. In this Year of Mercy, I call on every Catholic to actively seek out God’s mercy, receive it, and bring it to others.

I encourage you, too, regardless of which political party you belong to, to participate in your caucuses on March 1 to bring Christian values into the public square and help rebuild a culture of life.

To contact your representative and to learn more about the caucus process, visit: www.cocatholicconference.org

COMING UP: Opinion: There is cause for hope amid dire reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors

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By Vincent Carroll

This Dec. 13, 2019 opinion column was originally published by the Denver Post.

When will it end, many Catholics must wearily wonder. And not only Catholics. Anyone who reads or listens to the news must wonder when the Catholic church sex scandals will ever be over.

But in one major sense, the crisis already has passed and what we’re witnessing — and will continue to witness for years — is the aftermath.

To see what I mean, go to Appendix 4 in the report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Colorado issued in October by investigators led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. There’s a bar graph highlighting the “number of victims by decade the abuse or misconduct began.” Towering above all other decades for the archdiocese of Denver is the bar for the 1960s, representing 74 victims. In second place is the 1970s with 25 victims, and the 1950s is third with 14. The 1990s had 11 victims and the 1980s three.

As the report observes, “Roman Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Colorado peaked in the 1960s and appears to have declined since. In fact, the last of the Colorado child sex abuse incidents we saw in the files were 1 in July 1990 and 4 in May 1998.”

In other words, nearly 70 percent of all the abuse documented in the attorney general’s report within the Denver archdiocese occurred a half-century or more ago.

Denver’s history differs somewhat from the national experience, but not wildly so. Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded in 2004 after examining the national data on accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002 that “more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade.” The 1960s were also atrocious years for Catholic youth and so was the first half or so of the 1980s.

It appears that accusations in the years since have held to the same chronological profile. Mark Gray, a survey researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, reported recently that CARA has analyzed 8,694 accusations of abuse made between 2004 and 2017 (compared to 10,667 earlier allegations studied by John Jay researchers). The result: The distribution of cases is “nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results.”

In other words, a large majority of the accusations of abuse that have surfaced in this century are also dated to the horrible era of 1960 to 1985.

This pattern even holds for incidents in last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, although news coverage often left the impression that it recounted a fresh flood of new incidents. The report’s scope and details were certainly new and devastating, but most (not all) of the incidents and perpetrators were old (or dead). Those accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania report, for example, were on average “ordained as priests in 1961,” according to Gray.

Given this context, it’s hardly surprising that “the most prolific clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” according to the special investigator’s report, namely Father Harold Robert White, was also ordained in 1961.  His depredations “continued for at least 21 years,” the heyday of sexual abuse and church complacency, during which time he “sexually abused at least 63 children.”

Chilling.

I am perfectly aware that the Colorado investigation hardly exhausts the number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It covers diocesan priests but not those who served in religious orders. Records are likely incomplete and some perhaps destroyed. And the actual number of victims certainly exceeds the number who have come forward.

There is also the question of a reporting time lag — the fact that victims often don’t muster the courage to come forward for years. But if this had been a major factor in the reduced number of incidents after 1985 at the time of John Jay College’s 2004 report, that number would surely have seen a disproportionate surge by now. And yet it has not.

The authors of the state investigation emphasize that they are unable to reliably say that “no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998,” and warn against concluding that clergy child sexual abuse is “solved” given ongoing weaknesses they outline regarding how the church handles allegations.

Their caution is understandable given the church’s history in the past century (in the report’s words) of “silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism,” and their recommendations to strengthen the diocese’s procedures are for the most part on point. But it is also true that child sexual abuse will never be “solved” in the sense of it being eradicated — not in religious denominations, and not in schools, daycare centers, scout troops, youth sports, and juvenile social service and detention facilities, to cite just some of the venues that predators unfortunately exploit and where an accounting for the lax standards of the past has not been undertaken.

John Jay College researchers also released a followup study in 2011 in which they noted, “the available evidence suggests that sexual abuse in institutional settings . . .  is a serious and underestimated problem, although it is substantially understudied.” Meanwhile, “no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church.”

Early this month, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned from the Buffalo Diocese over gross mishandling of sexual abuse claims. He likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, Catholics still await the Vatican’s promised explanation for how defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly preyed on seminarians for decades, could have been promoted time and again. Is there any credible defense?

So the bad news hasn’t stopped. But behavior in the priestly trenches actually is much improved, and that is surely cause for hope.

Email Vincent Carroll at [email protected]