DENVER (AP/CBS4) – The new archbishop of Denver said Tuesday that he has a lot to learn about social issues in Colorado but God and gospel should be part of public debates.
The Vatican announced that Monsignor Samuel Aquila will lead the Archdiocese of Denver, a post left vacant after Archbishop Charles Chaput moved to Philadelphia in August. Aquila’s installation will be July 18.
The archbishop oversees nearly 550,000 Catholics, 119 parishes and 48 schools in the archdiocese, which spans northern Colorado. The archdiocese estimates that Catholics make up more than 16 percent of the total population in its region.
Aquila, 61, studied at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver and worked in several Colorado parishes after his ordination in 1976. Previously, he was bishop of Fargo, N.D.
He was formally introduced as archbishop by Denver Bishop James Conley, who described him as “a gentle and compassionate man” who is always among friends.
“All of this is overwhelming,” Aquila said, adding that he looks forward to returning to the “church that gave birth to my vocation as a priest.”
Asked what social issues he would speak about publicly, Aquila said he was unfamiliar with Colorado issues but emphasized the need “to bring God into the public square as our forefathers did.”
Aquila was outspoken in his previous post, telling a Fargo radio station in December that groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are endangering the nation’s future by “the removal of God from anything.”
Aquila said Tuesday that atheist and agnostic organizations encourage people to keep their faith private and pretend God doesn’t exist, which he said is “imposing on us their beliefs and their value system.”
Asked whether he would be vocal in public debates outside the church, Aquila pointed to Chaput and other predecessors who were outspoken in their conservative views. Aquila said he would hold firmly to Catholic teachings when it comes to legislation such as civil unions.
Colorado voters banned civil unions in 2006. A measure that would have legalized civil unions, giving gay couples rights similar to those of a married couple, died in the Legislature this year.
Aquila said he would “support the teaching of the church on the importance of the nuclear family.” He called marriage the “one gift that was not forfeited by original sin.”
In a one-on-one interview with CBS4’s Kathy Walsh he tackled a number of topics, including the role of women in the church.
“There are certain things certainly that only women can do, and there are certain things only men can do,” Aquila said. “That includes being a priest.”
He also told Walsh he doesn’t believe priests should be allowed to get married.
“I would characterize myself as being deeply in love with Christ,” he told Walsh.
Aquila was one of several bishops who denounced Notre Dame University’s decision to allow President Barack Obama to deliver the 2009 commencement speech because of his abortion rights stance. Aquila was applauded by a crowd of about 100 that attended his introduction Tuesday when he reaffirmed his anti-abortion views.
Chaput built a reputation in Denver as a conservative leader, devoted to evangelism and vocal about his disapproval of “cafeteria Catholics” who accept some teachings but not others and of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
He also dealt with controversy. During his tenure, the Denver Archdiocese settled 43 sex abuse allegations against priests for $8.2 million between 2005 and 2008. Chaput apologized to victims.
Chaput drew criticism when he fought efforts to extend time limits for the filing of lawsuits over alleged abuse, saying he didn’t want the law to treat the church differently than any other institution or person.
– By Rema Rahman, AP Writer
– CBS4 staff contributed to this report
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