Archbishop Aquila: Update on completion of independent review and reparations process

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

To the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver, 

In the summer of 2018, revelations about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report initiated another extensive look at the history of sexual abuse of minors in the U.S. Catholic Church. 

For many faithful Catholics, I know how disheartening this was because there was a feeling that this issue had been addressed, so despite no current cases, why was it back in the news?  

The reality is that even though we have spent decades taking steps to make sure our children are protected and that survivors are cared for, the healing process remains on-going and the work continues.  

Today, as we wrap up an almost two-year independent review and reparations process, I want to provide my thoughts and reflections on what we have learned, and where we go from here.  

When we engaged in conversations with Attorneys General Cynthia Coffman and then Phil Weiser about how we could cooperatively examine the Church here in Colorado, I entered our archdiocese into a statewide agreement to achieve the following three goals:  

  1. Offer a transparent accounting of the history of sexual abuse of minors by priests in our parishes including a review of how the archdiocese responded. 
  1. Provide a safe and simple means for survivors to come forward and receive support in their healing.  
  1. Obtain a thorough review and critique of our current prevention and response policies to make sure they are of the highest standards.  

I believe we have accomplished those goals. 

Transparency  

Today’s supplemental report identified five more diocesan priests with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. These allegations were received as part of the independent reparations program that invited survivors from any era to come forward and receive compensation from the Church. Special master Robert Troyer was asked to review these allegations and commissioned to write a supplemental report.  

The priests identified today, with the date of first abuse, are: Fr. Kenneth Funk (1959); Fr. Daniel Kelleher (1962); Fr. James Moreno (1978); Fr. Gregory Smith (1971); Fr. Charles Woodrich (1976). 

The supplemental report also identified additional allegations against eight of the priests named in the initial report for a total of 23 recently substantiated allegations in our Archdiocese. From both reports, our Archdiocese had a total of 150 substantiated incidents committed by 27 diocesan priests.  

But importantly, the additional substantiated allegations continue to fit the same historical pattern from the first report, specifically, that over 85 percent of the incidents occurred more than 40 years ago during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and none of the substantiated incidents occurred in the last 20 years. There are also no substantiated allegations against any current priest in active ministry.  

It remains true that nearly half of the total incidents were committed by one man, Harold White, and 70 percent of the incidents committed by four former priests. (White, Abercrombie, Holloway, Hewitt). 

I offer no excuses for these sins of the past, or the historical failure to respond to allegations against Harold White and others, but the context of when the abuse happened is important. 

While we can’t completely rule out the possibility that there are more recent cases that have not been reported to us, the most recent known incident in our Archdiocese remains 1999. Through extensive media coverage of this process, multiple opportunities for survivors to come forward, and the work of independent investigators, we still have not discovered any substantiated abuse by our diocesan priests occurring in over 20 years.  Further, any person who participated in the reparations program had to first report their allegation to law enforcement. Therefore we are confident that there are no priests in active ministry with known substantiated allegations against them.

As I have said many times before, we must remain vigilant, but this extensive, independent process should remove any cloud of unfair suspicion from our current priests.  

Justice and Healing 

While I cannot speak for every survivor, my hope is that this process has served them in their healing.  

I know that for many, having to relive any aspect of their abuse was extremely painful, but I hope that the listing of names provided a measure of vindication by publicly acknowledging the horrible wrongs that were committed.  

I further hope that the independent reparations program provided meaningful resources and compensation, with a process that was designed to protect the dignity of the survivors by putting them in control. 

The program was completely confidential for those who wished to remain private, non-adversarial with no depositions or extended legal requirements, and run completely independent of the Church.  

I will continue to meet personally with any survivors who desire to do so, and even those these specific programs have ended, we will continue to offer support to anyone who comes forward.  

Protecting Children Today 

Finally, a critical aspect of this process was to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the children entrusted to our care.  

Beginning with Archbishop Stafford in the early 1990s, and continuing with Archbishop Chaput and myself, we have taken many steps over the last 30 years to make sure our parishes and schools are a safe place for children.  

Through enhanced screening processes, mandatory trainings on reporting and prevention responsibilities, and strict zero-tolerance and code of conduct policies, we have made significant progress, as evidenced by the significant decline in cases.  

But it has been an invaluable experience to receive an independent and thorough review of our current safe-environment policies. The recommendations provided by the Special Master have allowed us to build upon and strengthen our decades of work and make certain we are using every best practice and that we are held to the highest of standards.  Our children deserve nothing less.  

Moving Forward 

The conclusion of this process does not mean our work is done. As Catholics, we must re-affirm our commitment to never becoming complacent, and as a Church, that we will continue to pray for all survivors and their families.

The survivors of abuse who have come forward should also know that their voices have helped make sure that the Archdiocese is a safe place. We have endeavored to make our child protection measures part of the fabric of the Archdiocese and will continue this work to be a leader among all youth-serving organizations.   

We also join the Attorney General in encouraging other youth-serving organizations to consider the review and reparations processes we have used as a model to address similar issues. Sexual abuse is a society-wide issue, and we are ready to share our experience and partner with anyone looking to enhance their own child protection and survivor support efforts.  

May the spotlight on our past, be a light to guide others forward.  

Sincerely yours in Christ, 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila  

Links: 

Read a Statement from the Colorado Bishops 

Read the Special Master’s Supplemental Report  

Read the Final Report from the Independent Oversight Committee  

Visit Promise.ArchDen.org, to learn more about keeping kids safe from abuse.

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!