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Why Aren't We Talking about the Colorado Attorney General Report?

Do you remember what happened when the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was released?


The report was published on August 14, 2018, and it seemed like the whole country was paying attention.


In the weeks following, you probably noticed shocking headlines and read news stories about the horrific abuse.


Maybe you took the time to read some of the report. Perhaps you stopped when you felt sick to your stomach or couldn’t make out the computer screen through your tears.


Maybe you started to really see the victims - to feel compassion for the survivors crying in the background of the Attorney General’s press conference, to watch interviews with courageous men and women telling their stories for the first time.


You probably found this issue creeping into conversations with family, friends, and fellow parishioners, who all shook their heads in pain and disgust. You probably had no idea what to say.


If you went to Mass around that time, you may have heard prayers for survivors, a statement from your priest, or a homily addressing the painful revelations. If there was no mention of the news, you may have felt angry or disappointed that no one in your church seemed to be willing to talk about it.


Maybe you were young during the first major wave of the scandal back in 2002, or you never quite believed the media reports, or you had told yourself a story that let you dismiss these revelations as irrelevant to your own life of faith. So perhaps the revelations of 2018 felt brand new to you.


Or maybe you were already deeply aware of the issues of clergy sexual abuse, and you were grateful that others were finally talking about it too. Maybe you felt hopeful that things would finally change.


Maybe you felt devastated or betrayed or disgusted or scandalized or shocked or furious or numb.


Whatever it was like for you, I bet you were paying attention.


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Now, fast-forward to October 23, 2019.


That’s the day that Attorney General for the state of Colorado released a 263-page report chronicling almost 70 years of abuse in Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses.


The report includes cases of 166 children who were abused by 43 different priests between 1950 and 2019. Like the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, the Colorado report is full of horror stories - a prolific perpetrator who abused at least 63 children over the course of 21 years, ritualistic sexual torture, twisted spiritual manipulation, victims betrayed and abandoned by the Church that should have protected them. The report reveals an ugly history of buried secrets, as well as a current response that remains woefully inadequate in many ways.


But we’re not talking about it.


Yes, there have been a few local news stories (Investigator finds 43 Catholic priests in Colorado sexually abused at least 166; Special Report On Colorado Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Details 70 Years Of Allegations, Cover-Ups And Shoddy Records), and the Catholic news outlets have offered a bit of coverage as well (Report details 70 years of sexual abuse by Colorado clergy, Aquila: Report on Colorado sexual abuse calls Church to vigilance and holiness). But this story has barely made a blip on the national news, and most people don’t even seem to know that the report was released.


Why not?


Well, there are several reasons I would identify:


- First, the number of cases listed in Colorado is much smaller than in Pennsylvania. 166 victims might feel insignificant compared to over 1,000, until you remember that each one of those 166 is a precious human life changed forever by abuse. (It’s also helpful to keep in mind that the current population of Catholics in Colorado is about 800,000, while Pennsylvania's Catholic population is over 3 million.)


- Second, the investigation in Colorado was much more limited in scope than the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s investigation. I’m not an expert on these legal matters (if you are, I’d love to hear from you!), but from what I have learned, the powers of the Attorney General vary widely by state. This is why not all state AGs have the ability to pursue a grand jury investigation in the same way that Pennsylvania did.


In Colorado, this investigation proceeded through an agreement brokered with the Catholic dioceses and thus had very specific limitations. The format and scope of the report was agreed upon in advance. The investigation did not examine the records of religious-order priests who served in these dioceses or allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct with adults. The investigation was only able to review diocesan files that were given to investigators by the dioceses themselves; investigators had no power to subpoena documents or compel testimony, although they conducted extensive interviews and other investigative proceedings to verify and supplement the information found in diocesan files.


As attorney Adam Horowitz commented in response to the report: “The data is only as good as the integrity of the institution that is self-reporting." Given that reality, it seems fair to assume that the number of victims is significantly higher than the 166 revealed in this report.


- I would also note that Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania demonstrated a certain flare for the theatrical when releasing his report - a widely-promoted press conference that began with emotional video testimonies from victims, tearful survivors arranged on the stage on both sides of the speaker, a well-crafted speech that highlighted the most horrible cases and condemned Catholic leaders in powerful terms. The Pennsylvania report itself is written and organized with the clear intention of stirring up anger, disgust, and indignation.


In contrast, the Colorado report was released at a simple press conference without much fanfare, and the report presents the facts in a dry, emotionless tone. This report wasn't designed to grab attention, and I believe this more neutral presentation does make a significant difference in the way the Colorado report has been received.


- All that said, the most obvious reason that the Colorado report is not generating significant attention is this - Revelations of horrific abuse and cover up in the Catholic Church no longer seem like something new. It’s a sad reality, but I think many people just assume that there will be terrible stories revealed wherever investigators start digging. There is nothing particularly new about the cases in Colorado - the pattern of grooming, abuse, and cover up seems dreadfully familiar. Over a year after Pennsylvania, perhaps we’re more likely to just shake our heads in resignation. Perhaps we simply don’t want to hear it all over again.


For these reasons, it is somewhat understandable that the Colorado Attorney General Report of October 2019 has drawn much less attention than the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report of August 2018.


But I stayed up late last night reading the Colorado report, and I think there are many details worth noticing. I had originally planned to write one simple blog post today, outlining a few key take-aways from the report. However, after digging into these pages, I believe there is actually a lot to be said about this latest report, and as far as I can tell, no one else is saying it.


So, stay tuned for some in-depth analysis of the Colorado Attorney General Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse. I’ll tell you more about the perpetrators, the victims, and the patterns that emerge. I’ll share details about the problems investigators found with current practices, highlighting observations that all dioceses should consider. I’ll highlight the good news as well, because I believe that progress, even imperfect and partial progress, is worth noticing. I’ll do my best to share what I’m learning in a way that is fair, clear, and useful for all of you.


I plan to dive into that series in two weeks. First, I have a little announcement to make on Friday, and then I’ll jump into coverage of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly beginning next Monday. I also have an update from Jessica on the way soon. Then, after all of that, I’ll tell you more about what we can learn from Colorado.


This is not the time to lose focus, friends. Let’s keep paying attention, together.


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“They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength,

they will soar on eagles’ wings;

They will run and not grow weary,

walk and not grow faint.”


- Isaiah 40:31

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©2020 by Sara Larson