Marriage: God’s most stunning creation

Archbishop Aquila

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and many people are thinking about how they can best show their love to someone. Although it is countercultural, the Church holds up faithful, Christ-centered marriage as the most satisfying and complete answer to this question.

This past week Pope Francis paid tribute to spouses who live out their marriage with unity and fidelity. They give the world what he called “an example of true love” that serves as “a silent sermon to all.” As the Church joins numerous other churches in celebrating National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, the gift of marriage lived well must be at the center of our witness.

For instance, Pope Francis once told the story of a couple that he met who were celebrating 60 years of marriage. He asked them if they were happy and they responded, “We are in love.” Their love enabled them to persevere through the difficulties of raising children and the inevitable sorrows and sufferings of life, such that they could tell the pope that after 60 years, they are still in love. Is this the hopeful, positive vision of marriage that we are promoting?

Their beautiful witness is a sign that real, lasting love is possible despite the significant drop in marriage rates, the rise in divorce and the increasingly short-lived nature of relationships we see today. Through the graces offered in marriage, holiness and genuine happiness can be found, a fact that is supported by many numerous sociological studies.

At the same time, there are many signs pointing to marriage declining in the U.S. The rate of married people has declined from a high of 72 percent in 1960 to around 50 percent in 2016. Another sign of the health of marriage from a Catholic perspective is how open people are to children. The Center for Disease Control’s recently released 2017 data shows that the country hit a 30-year low this past year with a birthrate of 1.76 births per woman — 2.1 children per woman is considered the replacement rate. Colorado came in even lower at 1.63 births per woman.

These results should prompt us to question how much we are doing to support and encourage marriage and to foster a culture of life within them. We must help Catholics understand the three goods of marriage: fidelity to one’s spouse, a lifelong commitment and the gift of children. In addition to promoting understanding, we should ask what we are doing to encourage openness to life and to support those who have children in our parishes, neighborhoods and world.

Some practical ideas that parishes can consider include: hosting events that model good dating practices, recruiting mentor couples for accompanying engaged couples preparing for marriage, and providing financial, emotional and spiritual support for struggling families. I am sure there are many other innovative ways that faithful people can create to respond to this reality, some of which already exist, such as the Building Family Culture retreats offered by Dr. Jared Staudt, the Marriage Missionaries apostolate, Marriage Encounter retreats and Families of Character.

As people of faith, we should above all take hope in the truth that holiness and happiness in marriage are possible with God’s help. St. Therese of Lisieux offers us the example of her parents, who were declared saints in 2015. She wrote of Louis and Zelie Martin: “God gave me a father and a mother who were more worthy of heaven than of earth.”

“Marriage,” as Pope Francis has stated, “is the most beautiful thing that God has created,” since it reflects the unity and love of God. May we as a Church work to support and strengthen marriage so that the silent, daily witness of married couples reflects God in our midst and builds up our society.

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.