Reflecting upon the Immaculate Conception

Archbishop Aquila

Every Dec. 8, the Church observes the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and without fail, people think that this refers to Jesus’ conception, when it is actually the celebration of Mary being conceived without sin. I want to reflect with you on this mystery, so that we can appreciate its significance in salvation history.

The Catechism explains that through “the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception.” And in 1854 Pope Pius IX declared that this teaching is an infallible dogma of the Church.

Just as God’s grace reaches us 2,000 years after his death and resurrection through the sacraments, so too, did God the Father give the graces of his son’s sacrifice to Mary, so that she was conceived in her mother’s womb without inheriting Adam and Eve’s original sin.

This is what we celebrate every Dec. 8. God chose a woman, through the gift of motherhood, to actively participate in the redemption of the world! In the Office of Readings for this feast, St. Anselm eloquently observes, “Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night — everything that is subject to the power or use of man — rejoices that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace.”

It is truly wonderful and mysterious that God the Father began the redemption of the world by choosing Mary to play a vital role in his plan. This is why the Church Fathers speak of Mary as the “New Eve,” since by her obedience and trust, Mary began the process of undoing the harm inflicted by Eve’s disobedience and distrust.

The first bishops of the United States appreciated Mary’s unique role in our salvation and her heavenly protection, so in 1846 — some eight years before Pope Pius IX’s declaration of her sinless conception — they requested that she be named the patroness of our country, under the title Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Similarly, the Archdiocese of Denver has Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as its principal patroness and has named its cathedral basilica after her.

Mary might seem far from our everyday reality, but she is truly very close to us. She knows what it’s like to grow up in an uncertain time, to accept great responsibility at a young age, to raise a child in a place like Egypt and then return to Nazareth. She knew poverty and danger. She also knew great loss through the death of St. Joseph and then the death of her son, Jesus.

The key to Mary’s perseverance through the uncertain and unclear moments in her life can be found in her trust in the Father. Rather than doubting him when things seemed hard to believe, Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). When, for example, the shepherds appeared shortly after Jesus was born and related the angels’ message that they would find the Messiah wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, Mary pondered this miracle in her heart.

St. Anslem offers some insight into this mystery in a sermon he gave for this solemnity. He preached: “God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life.”

On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation, may our hearts grow like Mary’s in trust of God the Father, and may we offer thanks to the Father for the gift of Mary our mother, and through her tender maternal intercession may we grow in greater trust to give witness to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior!

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.