VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Samuel Aquila, as the new archbishop of Denver, will continue to firmly and publicly uphold the Church’s teaching, just as he did in his previous Diocese of Fargo, N.D.
Speaking to Register correspondent Edward Pentin July 2, the archbishop stressed that when Catholics in public life go against the magisterium, “all it does is weaken the faith and cause confusion among the laity when no action is taken.”
In Rome to receive the pallium June 29 from Pope Benedict XVI, the archbishop also discussed his hopes as shepherd of Denver, the many gifts Denver has to offer to the universal Church, and his reflections on receiving the pallium. He will be installed the 5th archbishop of Denver, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1976, at a Mass July 18.
The Denver Post said you are “singing from the same orthodox hymnbook as [predecessors Charles] Chaput and [J. Francis] Stafford.” What is your response to that characterization?
[Laughs.] Well, first of all, I can’t sing! But, certainly, I hold the teachings of the Church and will always uphold the teachings of the Church. As a bishop that is certainly one of our roles: to teach and hand on what we have received from Christ and the apostles. So I take that very seriously and will continue to build on what my predecessors have taught. I will continue to work on the New Evangelization of the culture and of the society that is there in Denver.
The Post also said you will not shrink from bringing Catholic values to bear on U.S. policy and politics, but Denver is definitely a different kind of political landscape than Fargo. How will you manage the political diversity of Denver?
One will always want to present the Truth with charity. It is to speak directly to whatever the issues are and help people to understand why and what the Church teaches.
It’s very important to help young people grasp the teachings of the Church and especially respond in a personal way to the call that Christ is giving them to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, to be that leaven in the world.
Many young people in the Church of Denver are deeply committed to the Gospel and living out the Gospel.
One can see that in the various movements born in Denver or that have moved to Denver, whether it be the Augustine Institute or Fellowship of Catholic University Students [Focus], the Neocatechumenal Way or the Christian Life Movement. All of them are flourishing in one way or another. Also Communion and Liberation: I met some folks in Rome when I was there who were from the movement, and they said: “We look forward to having you in Denver.” So there’s a great amount of life in Denver that certainly will give witness among the laity, to the laity, the people of the city and all.
You’ve come to Denver at a very busy time — during an election year, religious-liberties battles, immigration rulings. How will that affect your “re-acquaintance” with the archdiocese as their new shepherd?
When I see the violation of religious liberty, I will speak to it, and especially the violation of the freedom of conscience. It’s not a question of politics, and it’s certainly not a fight we asked for, but one that has been imposed on us by the present administration. So it’s something that certainly all the bishops of the U.S. will be addressing in various ways during the next 6-12 months.
We have to remember, too, that it’s not just a problem here in the United States, but throughout the world, that there’s an international element to it.
If there are Catholic public figures in your archdiocese who come out in support of these policies that go against the magisterium, will you tell them they’re out of line?
One wants to make it clear to Catholics what the teaching of the Church is; and if they are not in line with that teaching, I would first of all want to speak with them personally. But also, if they’re speaking in a public manner and dissenting publicly from the teachings of the Church, that will need to be addressed, because all it does is weaken the faith and cause confusion among the laity when no action is taken.
You want to help people and to advance the truth, help them to receive the truth, and help them to realize there is truth that can be received, especially when it comes to the dignity of human life and the dignity of the human person. It’s essential for us as Christians to always put the dignity of the human person first and the basic rights afforded to the human person.
There are many immigrants in Denver. How will you reach out to them?
The immigration issue is a complex one and one that needs to be addressed with charity on both sides of the question; but, once again, the primacy of the dignity of the person will always come first.
Do you plan to change the order of the sacraments for children in Denver, as you did in Fargo?
Restoring the order of the sacraments [first Communion and confirmation] is something that I believe, stemming from my own studies of the sacraments of initiation. I would want to bring it up for discussion. It puts confirmation in a proper relationship with the Eucharist and helps one to see that the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of Christian initiation and being a full member of the Church, the body of Christ. Plus, I’m a firm believer that the younger one receives those graces that come with confirmation, the more one is prepared to face the challenges in junior high school and high school and college — and that helps remove any concept that confirmation is graduation or knowing all there is need to know about one’s faith.
Have you seen this approach emulated in other dioceses?
It certainly has been in Phoenix, which is larger than Denver, in terms of size and number of Catholics, and it’s been quite successful there when I’ve spoken to Bishop Olmsted about it. He’s very happy with the restored order.
You were the founding rector of the Denver Archdiocese’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, one of the fastest-growing seminaries in the U.S. Why is that, do you think?
I’m somewhat biased because I helped establish the seminary. I was there just for the first two years, but I also worked with others, in terms of putting it together. … So, part of it is the dynamism, the emphasis on conversion of the heart, and the strength that comes in the unity of faith and reason — so strongly embraced by the faculty there and instilled in the men who are being formed there.
Certainly, the spiritual life has primacy in their formation, in deepening their intimacy in communion of love with the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, with that, there’s a deep commitment to Christ, the Church, and there’s an enthusiasm and zeal to bring the Gospel into the world.
Is clarity of the teaching and orthodoxy also important?
Yes, that’s absolutely essential. All of the professors teach with great clarity the teachings of the Church. During the spiritual year itself, the young men are exposed to not only the spirituality of the Fathers of the Church, but they are also exposed to lectio divina [prayerful reading of Scripture], the 30-day Ignatian retreat. Also, they go through the entire Catechism, so they receive a real spiritual foundation prior to entering their studies.
The Augustine Institute, a Catholic graduate school in Denver headed by Tim Gray, has also developed a fine reputation.
Yes, Tim’s a fantastic man, and he’s doing great work with the Augustine Institute. It’s a tremendous blessing for the diocese. They are now in the top five programs offering master’s degrees in theology for the laity. It’s showing real growth, and it will only continue to grow.
Cardinal Stafford hosted World Youth Day ’93, and Archbishop Chaput has become a national voice on religion in the public square. It’s also the 125th anniversary of the founding of Denver as a diocese. What does the Denver Archdiocese have to offer the Church in the U.S. going forward?
World Youth Day was a watershed event. … Denver can serve as a real light and beacon for the Church in the U.S. and what is possible with dynamic orthodoxy. When you have people who have a deep zeal and love for Christ and the Gospel — and who have a real personal relationship with the Lord and desire to bring that to other people — that is something Denver certainly offers the Church in the U.S. and beyond. It’s the youthfulness of the Church.
What were your reflections on the pallium ceremony?
The ceremony was a wonderful experience of the unity of the Church, [with] 44 archbishops who received the pallium from over 20 different countries. That really demonstrates fulfillment of Christ: to go out to all nations, baptizing and teaching them, and really experiencing that Christ is with us. As the Holy Father said, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. So it was an experience of Christ fulfilling his promise to us. He is with us, even in difficult and challenging times, with secularism around (the world), the sexual-abuse crisis and attacks on religious freedom throughout the world.
We’re still called to proclaim the Gospel and lead others to Christ, who brings true happiness and really fulfills us as human persons.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent. He blogs at NCRegister.com.