Mary is coming to see you

Parishes, Catholic schools invited to host a visit of new diocesan statue

Roxanne King

The Church has dedicated the month of October to the rosary since 1883, when “the rosary pope” Pope Leo XIII directed it. Pope Francis reiterated this call last month, when he invited all the faithful to recite it every day in October.

This month also marked two significant Marian dates. On Oct. 7, the Church observed the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which recalls the outmanned Holy League’s 16th century victory over Turkish invaders at the Battle of Lepanto, which St. Pius V attributed to mass recitation of the prayer. Oct. 13 marked the 101st anniversary of the 1917 “miracle of the sun” in the last apparition of Mary at Fatima, Portugal. Our Lady of Fatima urged praying the rosary.

Fittingly, the Archdiocese of Denver’s new statue of Our Lady of Fatima is now on pilgrimage throughout the diocese to encourage the faithful to recite the rosary. The rosary is a centuries-old Scriptural prayer focused on events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

“The statue was two years in the making,” said Sam Perry, founder of the Prayer in the Square campaign, which serves to promote the rosary and commissioned the statue. Prayer in the Square partners include The Catholic Foundation, the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities.

The Our Lady of Fatima statue was commissioned in Portugal in 2016 as a gift to the archdiocese to mark the then-upcoming 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. Unfortunately, those who carve the statues were overwhelmed with centennial orders and Denver’s didn’t arrive until this spring.

The exquisite five-foot tall statue is made from a single piece of African wood. It depicts Mary in bright white garments with gold trim, holding a rosary and wearing a gleaming gold crown. Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila blessed it in May. Such statues are believed to carry the moral presence of Mary.

“We wanted the statue so it could visit schools and parishes where time could be set aside to pray the rosary,” said Tom Morroni, a member of the Prayer in the Square Committee. “This is meant to pass the rosary on to the next generation.”

Catholic schools and parishes are invited to host the statue for a two-week period. It arrives with rosaries made in the Holy Land and pocket-sized blue-covered books (in English and in Spanish) on how to recite it that are given away for free.

Organizers encourage parishes to offer special events related to the visit to foster devotion to the rosary, such as a time for daily public recitation of it. A film about the Fatima apparitions is also available for parishes to offer a movie night for families.

The statue’s pilgrimage started in June. It is currently at Queen of Peace Church in Aurora. The first parish to host it was Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield. Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City soon followed.

“I wanted to have it because our parish is dedicated to Mary,” said Msgr. Jorge de los Santos, Pastor of the predominately Hispanic parish. “It’s good to have devotion to Our Mother [Mary], the Mother of God. She is the first disciple, our mother and our model of discipleship.”

As a result of the visit, he said, the parish has continued to pray the rosary as a community before each Mass on Sundays.

Father Michael Freihofer, Pastor of Our Lady of the Snow in Granby and Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima’s Denver Division, recently hosted a visit.

“We will accept a life-size statue of Mary at our churches (he oversees five) any time we can get her!” he said. “We get to see how powerful her intercession is. … I get to hear the stories of healing.”

Father Freihofer credits the Blessed Mother with protecting him from falling into mortal sin at age 21.

“The Blessed Virgin beckoned me not to fall into it,” he said. “By God’s grace, I avoided it. My whole path in life could have gone astray if I would have committed that sin.”

He also credits Mary with his vocation to the priesthood.

“In 1995, I felt I wasn’t a very holy person, even though I was going to Mass every Sunday and going to confession bi-monthly. I determined to pray the rosary every day beginning on January 1, 1996. … By August 1999, I was in the seminary.”

His devotion to Mary is summarized in one statement.

“The quickest way to holiness is having Mary at your side,” he asserted.

Schedule the Our Lady of Fatima statue to come to your parish or school  

Go to ccdenver.org/fatimastatue/

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]