February 19, 2019
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
As part of my promise to you to be transparent about how the archdiocese is addressing the issue of the sexual abuse of minors by priests, I have some news to share.
As some of you may be aware, on February 19, 2019, all three Colorado dioceses voluntarily entered into an agreement with the Colorado attorney general to review our priest personnel files to determine those who have substantiated allegations of sexually abusing a minor. This review will be carried out by former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer, whose task will be to identify these priests and publish a report on the matter.
Above all, we hope that this review will help bring a measure of justice and healing to the victims. It 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 our current policies and procedures. I am confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.
The Colorado bishops desire the healing of the survivors of abuse. For that reason, we will soon be launching an independent survivor compensation program, which will be administered by nationally recognized experts. The administrators will receive and evaluate claims from those who say they were sexually abused as minors by priests. It will be overseen by an independent panel led by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. The costs of the program will be funded by archdiocesan assets and reserves, but not by parish funds, the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, or Catholic Charities assets.
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 recognize the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to survivors. It is our sincere hope that these two initiatives will accomplish that task and bring healing to the Church in Colorado.
I ask you to join me in praying for all victims and for our ongoing efforts to bring healing and reconciliation to the survivors of sexual abuse as minors. May Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life guide us and may we keep our eyes fixed on him who alone can bring healing and peace.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L.
Archbishop of Denver
Recap of the Press Conference
A sincere message from Archbishop Aquila
In order to honor the faithful clergy and laity of this archdiocese, and express the seriousness of my resolve, I SOLEMNLY PROMISE the following:
- The Archdiocese of Denver strives to be a highly reliable and ethically sound institution in our business practices, personnel assignments and protection of the vulnerable.
- Allegations of sexual abuse of a minor will always be properly reported to local authorities. I will continue the Archdiocese of Denver’s strong track record of cooperation with law enforcement.
- I will immediately remove a member of the clergy or any other church worker from active ministry during an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.
- I take very seriously all reported incidents of misconduct by members of the clergy or other Church workers, and we will investigate even non-criminal misconduct with great diligence.
- I will never transfer a member of the clergy who is under investigation.
- I will remove from ministry permanently and without the ability to be transferred to any other Catholic institution, any member of the clergy who is found to have had sexual misconduct with a minor.
- We hold ourselves accountable for addressing misconduct whenever we are made aware of it.
- All priests, deacons, employees and volunteers who are around children are trained on how to spot signs of abuse and neglect, and are trained in their role as mandatory state reporters.
- I adhere with great diligence to all of our internal policies and procedures.
- I will continue to strengthen our institutional training, screening, and monitoring of all clergy members, employees, and volunteers.
- I will continue to uphold the teachings of the Church, especially in the areas of sexual morality.
- I will correct anyone in any Catholic institution in the Archdiocese who is found to be undermining the teachings of the Church.
- I will defend the Catholic faith from assaults that come from either inside or outside the Church.
- I demand and will continue to enforce a strict and diligent screening process for all seminary applicants.
- I am grateful for your lifelong commitment to serve the Church.
- I will protect you from false accusations and strive to preserve your good name.
- I honor your rights and I will ensure that due process is followed if you are ever accused of misconduct.
- I will provide you with even better on-going formation, tools, and resources to ensure your physical, spiritual, and psychological well-being.
- I will ensure that the continual evaluation process, while rigorous, is fair.
- I will continue to provide honorable and trustworthy priests to oversee your formation.
- You will be heard if you have a concern or complaint about a formator priest, professor, or brother seminarian.
- I will do everything in my power to help you become the holy priests God called you to be.
Our Track Record Here in the Archdiocese of Denver
When it comes to protecting children, I want to assure the people of northern Colorado that the archdiocese has been and continues to be rigorous in its efforts to protect minors and help those who have been harmed in the past.
In 1991, more than 10 years before the USCCB adopted the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Archbishop Stafford instituted a mandatory reporting policy. He met with law enforcement and pledged his cooperation in any instance where there is a crime in the Church. As a result, for the last 27 years the archdiocese has had a positive relationship with law enforcement and social services and has consistently reported allegations of sexual abuse of minors it receives to the proper authorities. Archbishop Stafford also created a conduct response team, which was years ahead of when the practice became standard after the Charter. This conduct response team has always been comprised of dedicated professionals (including lay members) who advise me and are available for victims to meet, get them support they need, and help with the healing process.
Beyond these fundamental steps—which are still in place today—the archdiocese has also focused on how to help victims heal as its primary mission in addressing this issue. For example, beginning in 2005, a number of victims came forward publicly alleging abuse in the 1950s-early 1980s by five priests, all of whom were deceased. The archdiocese announced a groundbreaking and unique program—an independent outreach panel comprised of professionals, including a judge, a rehabilitation specialist and a police lieutenant. This panel provided those with legitimate claims of childhood sexual abuse the financial means to seek healing. Archbishop Chaput urged all victims of abuse by anyone affiliated with the archdiocese to come forward and meet with the independent panel. He made clear that attorneys for the archdiocese would not be present and that this was not part of litigation but instead was intended to be a ministry of the Church, in recognition of the wrongs done to these victims. The archbishop also offered to meet with victims personally.
The work of Cardinal Stafford, Archbishop Chaput and I, now that I am the steward of this archdiocese, is focused on protecting children. Above all, the archdiocese has for decades maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards credible accusations of sexual abuse by priests and laity who are affiliated with the archdiocese. While incidents of sexual abuse will always exist in society, the archdiocese remains active in enforcing its policies and longstanding zero-tolerance approach.
We will not rest in our efforts to safeguard our children and I promise to continue working hand-in-hand with local law enforcement and other religious and secular institutions to ensure that continues perpetually.
Addressing Issues in the Wider Church
A Call for independent investigations
The revelations about former archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s sexual sins and infidelity, and those who enabled him, have been extremely disheartening. The Church must not give-in to the temptation of hiding, which was the reaction Adam and Eve had when they sinned. Only when one brings one’s sin into the light, does one experience the unconditional mercy and love of Jesus. Hiding communicates to God, ‘I really do not trust your love and mercy for me, you cannot heal me, or set me free from the slavery of my sin,’ or, ‘I do not want to let go of my sin.’
Jesus teaches us, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). He teaches us that we can know the truth, and in knowing the truth we will be set free from everything that is not of him. In our encounter with Jesus, we come to know his love, mercy and truth for he himself is the “way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6).
For the sake of the truth being known, I recently joined Cardinal DiNardo and the Executive Committee of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference in calling for the Holy See to conduct a thorough investigation into the McCarrick situation, including the involvement of a lay committee with the authority from Rome to carry out an independent investigation.
These horrible actions should never have happened, whether we are talking about the unthinkable crime of abusing minors, or the abuse of power by cardinals, bishops or priests over a long period of time.
A Call for Clarity about what has and is happening
In times when individual abuse cases have been reported, we have rightly spent our efforts caring for the victim(s) and ensuring that the perpetrators are prevented from carrying out further abuse.
What we haven’t done well is help the public, our parishioners, or even the media to understand the facts about our track record here in Denver or across the Church in the U.S.
Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report ignores drastic decrease in allegations beginning in 1970s
The above graph presents data assimilated from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report that measures the number of accused priests against their birth years and the years they ordained. What it shows is that the average year many of the priests accused of sexual abuse were born was 1933, and the average year they were ordained was 1961. As the graph shows, the number of accused priests in Pennsylvania began to drop at the end of the 1970s and continued to do so until the present. Interestingly, the data on this graph mirrors the revelations of a 2004 study conducted by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in which they aggregated the number of allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors from 1950 to 2002. If the research is anything to go by, the profile of priests alleged to have sexual misconduct with minors has not changed in the 14 years since the 2002 sex abuse crisis hit the Church, meaning we are dealing with the ramifications of a scandal that has largely passed, not a new one.
CARA study shows the same drastic decrease in allegations across the United States
This graph presents data aggregated by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) representing the number of alleged cases of clergy sex abuse of minors during each five-year period from 1950 up through 2017. This data is for the entire U.S. Church, and it is for allegations that have been reported since 2004. (Note: The reported date and the alleged incident date are often decades apart). As the graph shows, new abuse allegations have not disappeared altogether — there were 22 that were reported to have occurred during this most recent five-year period we’re in — though they have dropped significantly. This is still far too many — zero should be the only acceptable figure. However, to give these numbers some context, consider that 42 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania lost their licenses due to sexual misconduct in 2017 alone. This is no excuse for what has happened in the Church; rather, these statistics put into proper context all the diligent work the Catholic Church has done and continues to do at preventing sexual abuse in its institutions and shows that it is committed to purging this evil from its ranks.