Seeking healing and justice for survivors

Archbishop Aquila

Last year I made a promise that the Archdiocese of Denver would be transparent about our handling, prevention and response to the sexual abuse of minors by priests. We have been working to continue to deliver on that promise, and this week has brought forth two fruits of that effort.

After months of dialogue with Colorado’s former and current Attorney General, the three dioceses of Colorado have voluntarily entered into a joint agreement that will result in an independent review of priest personnel files. This review will be entrusted to an independent “special master,” former United States Attorney Robert Troyer, who will comb through the files to determine which priests have received substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against a minor. Those who fit this description will then have their names made public in a report.

This will also be an important opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of our historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests and for a review of our current policies and procedures. We are confident in our track record over the past few decades, the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no current accusations against any of our priests. At the same time, we hope this announcement will move anyone who has been harmed to come forward. 

The Archdiocese of Denver and the Attorney General’s office were able to reach this agreement because we share common goals: justice and healing for survivors, accountability, transparency and the need for the facts about our track record to be more widely known.

I also hope that this independent file review will help bring justice to our 300 active priests, whose fruitful and sacrificial ministry is too often unfairly tarnished by the sins of a small group of priests that came before them. It is worth noting that our priests have been supportive and instrumental in the process of implementing the safe environment protocols that have made our parishes and ministries far safer than they were prior to 2002.

In conjunction with the independent file review, the three Colorado dioceses are also launching a survivor compensation program like the effort undertaken by Archbishop Chaput in 2006. While the archdiocese has been assisting victims for years, I strongly desired to extend this outreach further to try to bring some measure of healing to those who have been harmed.

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. And while money can’t heal wounds, it can acknowledge the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to the survivors. 

The survivor compensation program will be administered by a national mediation expert, Mr. Kenneth Feinberg, and his colleague, Ms. Camille Biros. Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros will receive allegations from those who were abused as minors by priests or bishops and will impartially determine what assistance is needed to help these survivors. Their work will be entirely independent of the archdiocese and will be overseen by an independent committee of respected Coloradans and national experts.  The chairman of that committee will be former U.S. Senator Hank Brown.

It’s important for Catholics to know that the costs of this program will be covered by archdiocesan assets and reserves. No funds from ministries or charities at your parish, the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, or Catholic Charities will be used for this program.

While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, I pray that it will at least begin the healing process.

Despite the sins of the Church’s members, we must remember that Jesus is the ultimate source of healing for every wound. The words of St. Mother Teresa, who spent her life caring for the suffering, come to mind. “Bring all your suffering to [Jesus] … only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest.”

Please visit Archden.org/Promise for updates on the full the details of the file review and survivor compensation program.

COMING UP: A Solemn Promise: Archbishop Aquila launches comprehensive webpage to speak to the people of northern Colorado

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