Reasons for Review
A sincere message from Archbishop Aquila
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.