“Spotlight” FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions

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The movie “Spotlight,” set for wide release Nov. 20, tells the story of how a team of Boston Globe journalists broke the story of mishandled allegations of sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston. The movie is likely to generate a lot of questions about the sexual abuse scandal. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

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What has been the Archdiocese of Denver’s response to the sexual abuse scandal?

Since 2002, the archdiocese has accepted the Church’s duty to help support and heal victims of clergy abuse by emphasizing prevention, training, and redress for victims. The Archdiocese of Denver has been found compliant with the USCCB audit for the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People every year.

The archdiocese’s compliance with the Charter has been willing, committed and constant. The archdiocese will continue to report to the civil authorities all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

Further, the archdiocese continues its practice that every credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against clergy and church or school employees results in immediate removal of the alleged offender from his or her position.

What is the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People?

The Charter is the policy for addressing allegations of sexual misconduct with minors that was adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. Before 2002, each diocese addressed sexual abuse allegations with its own policies. The Charter brought those policies together into one uniform procedure.

The Charter includes: pastoral care for victims (Article 1), review boards, policies and procedures (Article 2), prohibition of confidentiality agreements (Article 3), Requirements to report allegations to public authorities (Article 4), zero tolerance of sexual abuse (Article 5), codes of conduct (Article 6), open and transparent communications about abuse allegations (Article 7), training adults to create safe environments (Article 12), training children to recognize grooming behavior and to report it (Article 12), background evaluations on clergy, adults working with children (Article 13), prohibition of transfers of clergy who have committed an act of sexual abuse against a minor (Article 14), ongoing formation of clergy (Article 17).

At the end of the movie, a statement is made that major abuse was also uncovered in numerous dioceses, and Denver is listed. What abuse cases have happened here?

Between 2006 and 2010, the Archdiocese of Denver settled numerous allegations of sexual abuse by two priests—Harold Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie—which occurred between 1954 and 1981. Both priests are deceased.

In the movie, it showed how the Church would enter into confidentiality agreements with victims to ensure their silence. Does the Archdiocese of Denver use this tactic?

The archdiocese does not enter into confidentiality agreements, unless requested by a victim.

In “Spotlight,” an ex-priest named A.W. Richard Sipe is quoted as saying that the celibacy requirement of priests is the cause of sexual abuse by priests. Is this true?

A.W. Richard Sipe is routinely interviewed by the media as an “expert” on Catholicism and the priesthood, and in “Spotlight” he is quoted as stating that celibacy is the root cause of the sexual abuse scandal and then goes on to make a series of other claims regarding sexuality of priests.

The claims made by Sipe are not substantiated or proven, nor is another viewpoint or perspective offered.

Sipe has made unsubstantiated claims over the years, such as claiming that celibacy caused the Holocaust. “I cannot forget that the people and forces that generated Nazism and the Holocaust were all products of one Christian culture and the celibate/sexual power system” (pp. 180, “Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis”).

The movie is not intended to portray a balanced view of the sexual abuse crisis, and its reliance on Sipe shows the biased approach. For some objective numbers of rates of sexual abuse by celibate clergy, see this Newsweek article from 2010—“Priests Commit No More Abuse Than Other Males.” In breaking down the stats gleaned from Newsweek’s reporting, Ross Douthat noted in his blog post “Does Celibacy Increase Sex Abuse?” that “Catholic clergy currently abuse children and teenagers at about one-fifth the rate of the male population as a whole.”

In some news articles there are those who say that nothing has been done by the Church in response to the sexual abuse crisis, and even more, that the problem is worse now than ever. Is that true?

IMG_0337There are no facts to substantiate these claims. In fact, every annual report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), which has been tasked with tracking new allegations of sexual abuse cases by clergy since 2004, reveals that most of the abuse cases reported are from the 60s, 70s and 80s. See report here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/2014-Annual-Report.pdf

In the last 10 years, there is a national average of 8.4 credible new cases of sexual abuse of a minor per year. In 2014, the USCCB reports that there were six substantiated claims from July 2013 to June 2014.

In the current cultural and media landscape, it would be very difficult to conceal any departure from the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Archdiocese of Denver takes every allegation of sexual misconduct seriously. If there is a concern, please contact the Office of Child and Youth Protection: 303-715-3241 or [email protected].

What do I do if I suspect a child I know is being abused?

If you suspect a child is being abused by anyone, you can contact the State of Colorado’s reporting line 1-844-CO-4-KIDS.

COMING UP: A last chance for Australian justice

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My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on November 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.

Thus in 2020 the highest judicial authority in Australia will review the Pell case, which gives the High Court the opportunity to reverse a gross injustice and acquit the cardinal of a hideous crime: a “crime” that Pell insists never happened; a “crime” for which not a shred of corroborating evidence has yet been produced; a “crime” that simply could not have happened in the circumstances and under the conditions it was alleged to have been committed.

Since Cardinal Pell’s original appeal was denied in August by two of three judges on an appellate panel in the State of Victoria, the majority decision to uphold Pell’s conviction has come under withering criticism for relying primarily on the credibility of the alleged victim. As the judge who voted to sustain the cardinal’s appeal pointed out (in a dissent that one distinguished Australian attorney described as the most important legal document in that country’s history), witness credibility – a thoroughly subjective judgment-call – is a very shaky standard by which to find someone guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It has also been noted by fair-minded people that the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is the most respected criminal jurist in Australia, while his two colleagues on the appellate panel had little or no criminal law experience. Weinberg’s lengthy and devastating critique of his two colleagues’ shallow arguments seemed intended to signal the High Court that something was seriously awry here and that the reputation of Australian justice – as well as the fate of an innocent man – was at stake.

Other recent straws in the wind Down Under have given hope to the cardinal’s supporters that justice may yet be done in his case.

Andrew Bolt, a television journalist with a nationwide audience, walked himself through the alleged series of events at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, within the timeframe in which they were supposed to have occurred, and concluded that the prosecution’s case, and the decisions by both the convicting jury and the majority of the appeal panel, simply made no sense. What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.

Australians willing to ignore the vicious anti-Pell polemics that have fouled their country’s public life for years also heard from two former workers at the cathedral, who stated categorically that what was alleged to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did, because they were a few yards away from Cardinal Pell at the precise time he was alleged to have abused two choirboys.

Then there was Anthony Charles Smith, a veteran criminal attorney (and not a Catholic), who wrote in Annals Australasia that the Pell verdict and the denial of his appeal “curdles my stomach.” How, he asked, could a guilty verdict be rendered on “evidence….so weak and bordering on the preposterous?” The only plausible answer, he suggested, was that Pell’s “guilt” was assumed by many, thanks to “an avalanche of adverse publicity” ginned up by “a mob baying for Pell’s blood” and influencing “a media [that] should always be skeptical.”

Even more strikingly, the left-leaning Saturday Paper, no friend of Cardinal Pell or the Catholic Church, published an article in which Russell Marks – a one-time research assistant on an anti-Pell book – argued that the two judges on the appellate panel who voted to uphold the cardinal’s conviction “effectively allowed no possible defense for Pell: there was nothing his lawyers could have said or done, because the judges appeared to argue it was enough to simply believe the complainant on the basis of his performance under cross examination.”

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of this case. The High Court of Australia can break that losing streak, free an innocent man, and restore the reputation of Australian justice in the world. Whatever the subsequent fallout from the rabid Pell-haters, friends of justice must hope that that is what happens when the High Court hears the cardinal’s case – Australia’s Dreyfus Case – next year.

Photo: CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images