Responding in faith to the current crisis

“In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.” St. Boniface’s words are as relevant today as they were when they were penned more than a millennium ago.

Amid the waves of the current crisis in the Church, Msgr. Peter Quang Nguyen, pastor at All Saints Parish in Denver; Father Ryan O’Neill, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Denver; and Father Samuel Morehead, pastor at All Souls Parish in Denver, shared words of advice to help the faithful navigate the storm and remain faithful to Christ.

Processing the current crisis

The priests mentioned fundamental aspects in responding faithfully to the current problems in the Church: acknowledging one’s emotions, bringing them to prayer and also praying for the victims.

“The first thing I’d recommend is to acknowledge what you’re feeling, what you’re experiencing on an internal level because that will be the engine that drives our thoughts, our words and our actions,” Father O’Neill said. “It’s a healthy, integrated and mature ability because sometimes that anger comes up when we don’t acknowledge that we feel angry.”

Secondly, Father Morehead encourages the faithful not to “indulge” in those emotions but to bring them to prayer: “There’s a call to us to bring heavy hearts, all the frustration, disappointment and anger, and relate it to Our Lord, begging for the healing that only he can bring.”

Moreover, echoing St. Paul’s words, Msgr. Quang assured that where sin has been present, grace has abounded much more (Rom 5:20), and thus, this crisis is “an opportunity” for the faithful to “be revitalized,” “grow in humility and prayer” and in a “deeper love of God and others.”

Father O’Neill added that while Catholics experience hurt, “we need to keep the victims as a priority” because “it’s healthy to remember at the end of the day that the people who suffered from the abuse are the people we need to pray for the most,” he added.

Following the Lord to Calvary

Among those people affected by the sex-abuse scandal, some are choosing to leave the Church.

“We can rightly condemn those mistakes [committed by clergy] and pray for the conversion of the offenders, but we cannot let their sins form a near occasion of sin for us to walk away from Jesus,” Father Morehead insisted. “[In the Last Supper], Jesus entrusted to bishops and priests in the apostolic succession of his Catholic Church the gift of his body and blood in the Eucharist. Where there is not the Eucharist there is not the Church. So, we need Jesus and for Jesus we need the Church.”

Msgr. Quang also warned the faithful against the plan of the devil to drive them away from Christ and his Church.

“We don’t want to fall into the big trap of the devil, who plants doubt and negative feelings in the people of God against all priests and bishops, even if they are holy and faithful,” he said. “People are hurt, and the devil will want us to fight against one another, but instead [we must stay and] seek healing.”

Father O’Neill reflected on the figures of Judas and Peter in the Gospels, exhorting the faithful not to give Satan more victories by leaving the Church.

“Judas was essentially a bishop. He was ordained with the other apostles and betrayed Jesus. And the Gospels say that the devil entered into Judas (Lk 22:3, Jn 13:27),” he said. “There is an action of the devil in Judas’ betrayal, and we see that in the current situation.”

Yet, he added that the act of leaving the Church is also orchestrated by Satan, as seen in Jesus’ words to Peter: “Get behind me Satan” (Mt 16:23).

“It’s really easy to say, ‘That is diabolical,’ because it’s obvious,” Father O’Neill said. “But, where else does Jesus call someone else Satan? It’s when Peter says, ‘Jesus, you’re not going to go to Jerusalem, you’re not going to carry your cross and you’re not going to die: suffering, suffering, suffering. And what does Jesus say to Peter? ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (Mt 16:23).

“He calls him Satan. In that sense, Jesus is saying it’s [also] diabolical to abandon the Lord in his suffering… A lot of times we think that [the suffering] comes from outside the Church, not from inside it, but the Church has its own Calvary, and that’s where I think the Lord is asking us to follow him right now.”

“I would encourage the people to read this [crisis] in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, when the Lord gave him that mission: ‘Francis, rebuild my Church,’” Msgr. Quang said. “Today, each and every one of us has that same invitation from our Lord… And we can do it by reaching out to the person closest to us.”

Vulnerable conversations

Responding to the questions, comments and accusations from peers or family members about the situation is yet another challenge for Catholics. However, Father Morehead sees it as an opportunity to be vulnerable and honest and proclaim a deep love for Christ.

“I think this is a beautiful moment for everyone in the Church to be close to Jesus on the cross in humility. It means being honest with everyone about what’s going on in the life of the Church and honest about our emotions as that affects us,” he said. “I think that that sort of vulnerability will actually be attractive at the end of the day. But also, as we are vulnerable, we have to speak of our vulnerable love for Jesus Christ, as the heart and center of our life.”

According to Father O’Neill, it is also an opportunity for Catholics to condemn what is evil and to reaffirm their belief in the Catholic Church as the Church established by Christ and the apostolic succession blessed by the Holy Spirit.

A helpful tip when these conversations become intense is to keep calm and help the other person acknowledge their feelings, Father O’Neill added, which helps prevent loud arguments.

I would encourage the people to read this [crisis] in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, when the Lord gave him that mission: ‘Francis, rebuild my Church.’ Today, each and every one of us has that same invitation from our Lord… And we can do it by reaching out to the person closest to us.”

To be witnesses to that love of Christ, however, the faithful must seek to forgive even those shepherds who have failed, as Msgr. Quang pointed out.

“We must strive to forgive even those who failed to serve the people, otherwise the feelings of anger and betrayal can lead us to react rather than interact,” he said.

Call to action

Bishops and priests are calling for Christians to do acts of reparation for the sins committed by clergy — acts that are of great significance.

“Christ is pure and holy and perfect, but his Church has been affected and is still affected by the ramifications of the sins of her members,” Father Morehead said.

Christians are thus called to make acts of reparation.

“What is happening in reparation is that we’re actually participating in the reparation of Jesus Christ on the cross,” Father O’Neill explained. “What I can do is that I can receive that act of reparation that Jesus does on the cross and I can add to it as St. Paul says, ‘I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church’ (Col 1:24).

“So, it’s not that I’m making things right on my own. I can do a small sacrifice to deny myself and unite myself to Jesus on the Cross, a little sacrifice in order to participate in his reparation with the Father, that his blood may repair the sins of the world.”

Another aspect of the reparation is that uniting oneself to the suffering of Christ becomes transformative.

“Penance helps us to experience the pain and suffering of Christ on the cross, who can lift us up from this stressful situation, with his love and his words on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing’” (Lk 23:34).

Ultimately, Father Morehead said we need to remember why we’re Catholics and more importantly, who it is we follow.

“[We] are not Catholics for any member of the clergy. We are not Catholic just because of some Church teaching or practice that we like,” Father Morehead concluded. “We are Catholic and Catholic alone because of Jesus Christ and what he did to found this Church 2,000 years ago, and furthermore, how he has promised to remain and work in this Church throughout the ages, even and especially in her trials.

“We are Catholic because of him and his promises, and that is the witness with joy that I encourage our faithful to offer at this time.”

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:  

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.