Pacific Daily News
Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes addresses the Vatican’s decision to convict former Guam Archishop Anthony S. Apuron during a press conference at the St. John Paul the Great Center in Hagåtña on March 19, 2018.Frank San Nicolas/PDN
Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes on Monday said Guam‘s Catholic church is beginning a new journey and entering “a post-Apuron era” following a Vatican tribunal’s conviction of former Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron.
“We are becoming a better church,” Byrnes said at a press conference, three days after the Vatican announced its decision to convict Apuron in a case that includes child sexual abuse accusations.
Byrnes apologized to the former altar boys who publicly accused Apuron of childhood sexual abuse.
“I convey my deepest apologies to Mr. Roy Quintanilla, Mr. Walter Denton, Mr. Roland Paul Sondia, and the late Joseph ‘Sonny’ Quinata for the tremendous damage inflicted upon each of you by now Bishop Apuron and the Archdiocese of Agana,” Byrnes said.
He said the victims’ families have suffered as well.
“I apologize to them too, most certainly to Doris Concepcion, who stepped forward courageously to speak and lobby on behalf of her son, Sonny,” Byrnes said. “I issue this public apology on behalf of the entire Archdiocese of Agana.”
Apuron’s victims from Agat welcomed the Vatican’s conviction of Apuron.
The PDN’s earlier headline, “A sense of relief,” also summarized Byrnes’ initial reaction when he first learned of the news on Friday night, he said.
“We’ve closed a significant chapter in the Archdiocese of Agana, so we begin a new one. It’s a new journey, a new opportunity for the Catholic Church here on Guam. You might even say we’re entering into a post-Apuron era,” Byrnes said at the news briefing, at times departing from his prepared written statement.
John Michael “Champ” Quinata, who testified at the Legislature in July 2016 , stating his now deceased brother Joseph “Sonny” Quinata was raped more than once by Apuron, on Monday said he’s thankful that the Vatican convicted Apuron.
He said this is justice for his brother, whom he said was raped by Apuron when his brother was 9 years old in Agat in the late 1970s.
“I’m sure that if my brother is still alive today, he’d also be happy that Apuron is found guilty,” he said. “Truth always comes out in the end.”
In a previous statement, Byrnes also offered prayers and thanks to Mark Apuron, for his brave decision to come forward regarding his uncle. Mark Apuron accused his uncle of raping him at a chancery bathroom in the early 1990s when he was a teen.
There are no details from the Vatican about the specific charges Apuron was found guilty of, the charges that were dismissed, or how long the appeals process would last, Byrnes said.
The Vatican said Apuron was found “guilty of certain of the accusations.”
Byrnes had said, though the sentence is subject to appeal, the Vatican has clearly and concretely determined a finding of guilty regarding “certain of the accusations” made against Apuron.
Apuron is now being addressed as “bishop,” since his removal from office includes the removal of his title, but he remains a bishop by ordination, Byrnes said.
“Removal from office or privation, they say, is a serious penalty in the canon law but he would still have the faculty of acting as a priest or bishop,” Byrnes said.
The Vatican’s Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was composed of five judges, found Apuron guilty of charges and imposed penalties on him including “privation of office and prohibition of residence in the Archdiocese of Agana.”
Byrnes said to his knowledge, this is the first time a bishop has been removed as a result of this new canonical trial process.
Pope Francis appointed Byrnes in October 2016 as coadjutor archbishop, who has rights to succeed Apuron should Apuron retire, resign or be removed.
Byrnes said he will also pray for Apuron as he does for Apuron’s victims.
“With humility, I ask the faithful to also assist him [Bishop Apuron] in prayer and penance, that he may find grace in repentance and mercy for his soul,” Byrnes said.
Apuron, who served as Guam’s archbishop since 1986, said in a statement that he is innocent and is looking forward to proving his innocence during the appeals process.
Byrnes said whether there is an appeal or not, the focus shall remain on penance and reparation.
In June 2017, Byrnes declared that the church on Guam commence a Year of Reparation and the Holy See’s decisions crystallizes the reason for this period of penance, prayer and almsgiving.
“I called then and still call upon all Catholics on Guam to intensify their prayers and with great humility to offer sacrifice for the grave harm and sins which we have experienced or have enabled in our church,” Byrnes said at the news briefing.
Byrnes said in many ways, this is new, historic, unprecedented ground upon which the Archdiocese of Agana stands.
In line with his statement that the Catholic Church on Guam is now “becoming a better church,” Byrnes said Hope and Healing Guam, which provides professional counseling to clergy sex abuse victims, continues to exist.
Byrnes said the church will continue to work with survivors of clergy abuse and their lawyers to settle all cases fairly and amicably.
He also cited the archdiocese’s revision of policies on sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, as well as mandatory training strengthening abuse prevention and awareness.
The church, he said, will update the community on any further word it might receive from the Vatican.
Byrnes said he is still consulting on the status of the Neocatechumenal Way, a group within the church whose practices sometimes are at odds with those of Guam’s traditional Catholic community.
“In the meantime, what I established last year is still enforced,” Byrnes said.
In March 2017, Byrnes asked for a one-year pause on the formation of new Neocatechumenal Way communities until a review of its teachings and practices is completed.
Apuron allowed the Neocatechumenal Way to take root on Guam and became a follower. He transferred a multi-million property to the Neocatechumenal Way, against the advice of his financial council, which he later dissolved.
The closed Redemptoris Mater Seminary, in the former Accion Hotel in Yona, is one of the 41 properties that the archdiocese could sell to help settle the nearly 160 clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed against the church.
Byrnes said the process of making these properties available for sale is moving forward, although at a slower pace than initially thought.
Vatican convicts ex-archbishop accused of sex abuse
NOLA The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
Archbishop Anthony Apuron stands in front of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagatna, Guam, in November 2014. The Vatican said Friday it had convicted the suspended Guam archbishop, who was accused of sexually abusing minors, financial mismanagement and other charges. (Photo by Grace Garces Bordallo, The Associated Press archive)
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has removed the suspended Guam archbishop from office and ordered him not to return to the Pacific island after convicting him of some charges in a sex abuse trial. The Vatican didn’t say what exactly Archbishop Anthony Apuron had been convicted of, and the sentence was far lighter than those given high-profile elderly prelates found guilty of molesting minors.
It amounts to an early retirement anywhere in the world but Guam, a remote U.S. Pacific territory where almost everyone is Roman Catholic. Apuron is 72, while the Vatican retirement age is 75.
The Vatican spokesman would not elaborate on the announcement. Calls placed to the tribunal judge weren’t answered.
Apuron’s whereabouts weren’t immediately known, but his Guam attorney, Jacqueline Terlaje, released a statement from him: “While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict. God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process.”
Pope Francis named a temporary administrator for Guam in 2016 after Apuron was accused by former altar boys of sexually abusing them when he was a priest. Dozens of cases involving other priests on the island have since come to light, and the archdiocese is facing more than $115 million in lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by priests.
Apuron strongly denied the charges and said he was a victim of a “calumny” campaign. He wasn’t criminally charged. The statute of limitations had expired.
A statement from the tribunal in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Friday (March 16) said Apuron had been convicted of some of the accusations against him. The congregation is the agency that handles sex abuse cases.
Under an appeal, the penalties could be suspended until the case is resolved. However, it’s not clear whether that has happened now that Apuron has indicated he has appealed.
In the past, when an elderly or infirm priest has been convicted by the Vatican of sexually abusing minors, he has often been removed from ministry and sentenced to a lifetime of “penance and prayer.” Younger priests convicted of abuse have been defrocked, removed from ministry or forbidden from presenting themselves as priests.
Francis, however, has intervened in a handful of cases to lower sentences. Several high-ranking Vatican prelates oppose defrocking convicted molesters and have long lobbied for more lenient sentences.
In the case of Apuron, no restrictions on his ministry as a priest were announced. An ailing Apuron greeted Francis at the pope’s Feb. 7 general audience.
Apuron is one of the highest-ranking churchmen to be convicted by a Vatican sex abuse tribunal. His rank as archbishop might have played a role in his seemingly light sentence.
Assuming the evidence against him was grave and credible, the Vatican might still have been reluctant to remove him from the clerical state, as it has done in hundreds of cases of defrocked priestly abusers, because Apuron would still remain a bishop theologically speaking, said Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at Catholic University of America in Washington. That means he could continue ordaining priests — ordinations that would be considered illicit but still valid — a schismatic conflict the Vatican would want to avoid.
Catholics on Guam have been convulsed by the Apuron scandal, with weekly protests demanding his ouster. One of the former altar servers who accused Apuron of molesting him said he felt relieved by the Vatican’s announcement.
“The verdict was what we were hoping for,” Roland Sondia said from Guam. “I think the fact that he won’t be able to return to the island is justice.” While The Associated Press doesn’t typically name victims of sex abuse, Sondia has come forward publicly identifying himself as one of Apuron’s accusers.
The attorney for the victims said he was overjoyed with the outcome. “We’re ecstatic. It’s a justified verdict,” David Lujan said.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes issued a statement early Saturday afternoon, also praising the decision. “It is a monumental marker in our journey toward healing as one church, one people in God. I pray that all people would embrace this call for healing,” Byrnes said.
The accusations against Apuron also involved grave financial problems in the archdiocese and the purchase of a valuable property by Apuron for a diocesan seminary that he actually turned over to a controversial Catholic movement.
A lay group that agitated for Apuron’s removal, Concerned Catholics of Guam, pushed for an investigation into the archdiocesan seminary, which Apuron opened in 1999 and moved to an 18-acre property thanks to a $2 million anonymous donation. A Vatican-backed inquiry found the property’s control had effectively been transferred to Neocatechumenal Way administrators without Vatican approval.
The seminary controversy came to a head when the Carmelite order of religious sisters disclosed it had provided the $2 million donation. The order said the money had been intended for an archdiocesan seminary to train diocesan priests, not a Neocatechumenal Way seminary to train missionaries. In a remarkable 2016 news conference to denounce the transfer, Carmelite Mother Superior Dawn Marie announced that her small community of nuns had left the island after a 50-year presence because of the “toxic environment” created by the controversy.
Melinda Burke, a parishioner of Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica — Guam’s mother church where Apuron is pastor– said she was worried about Apuron’s health when she heard he was found guilty. “I love him very much,” she said. “Archbishop Apuron has a very beautiful, Christ-like side.”
Mark Mendiola, 41, said news of Apuron’s verdict spread like wildfire on social media overnight. “I was glad a decision was made,” he said. “It will bring closure for some people.”
Mendiola, who is not Catholic yet attends Mass at a nearby village church and also attends occasional rosary prayers for families and friends, said he’s never seen the Catholic Church this divided. “Somebody needs to bring it back together.”
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Story by Nicole Winfield with contributions from Grace Garces Bordallo in Hagatna, Guam.
Apuron found guilty, says he will appeal
Pacific Daily News
A specially appointed Vatican tribunal announced that Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron was “guilty of certain accusations” related to the sexual abuse of minors, stripping the 72-year-old of his office and prohibiting him from returning to the island.
Within hours of Friday’s ruling, Apuron said he would appeal the ruling of the tribunal, which dismissed some of the charges against him.
“God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process,” Apuron said in a statement released by his lawyer.
The tribunal’s penalties against Apuron will be suspended until the appeal process is concluded, according to Giorgio Giovanelli, an expert on canonical law with Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes, who runs the archdiocese that was headed by Apuron for 30 years, welcomed the verdict.
“It has been a long and painful period for the church and our island community in general,” he said in a news release. “It is a monumental marker in our journey toward healing as one church, one people in God. I pray that all people would embrace this call for healing.”
‘Guilty of certain accusations’
According to a press release from the Vatican, the tribunal “issued its sentence of first instance, finding the accused guilty of certain of the accusations and imposing upon the accused the penalties of privation of office and prohibition of residence in the Archdiocese of Guam.”
Although the statement said Apuron’s trial involved “accusations of sexual abuse of minors,” no details have ever been given about specific charges against Apuron.
“While I am relieved that the Vatican has dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict,” Apuron said in his statement.
News of the appeal angered Doris Concepcion, a former Agat resident who said her son was sexually abused by Apuron in the 1970s.
She said Apuron “can appeal and deny until his dagan falls off, but the fact of the matter is, the Catholic Church has found him guilty, guilty, guilty. I pity the man. He has lost his way to Jesus, our Lord and Savior.”
Apuron was suspended as archbishop in June 2016 following public allegations that he had sexually abused altar boys when he was the parish priest in Agat in the 1970s. He denied the accusations at the time and threatened to sue his accusers.
‘The Vatican tribunal believed us’
Roland Paul L. Sondia said Apuron molested him when he was a 15-year-old altar boy in 1977. Sondia said the verdict gives him a sense of relief and justice.
“We’ve waited for so long for this day to come,” Sondia said, still at a loss for words late Friday night upon learning of the Apuron verdict. “The Vatican tribunal believed us, believed what was done to us. I’m still trying to take it all in.”
Sondia, now 56, said he was with his wife when he heard the news.
“We hugged each other, we were in tears. They’re tears of joy,” said Sondia, who still lives in Agat with his family.
Walter Denton, of Casa Grande, Arizona, told the Vatican in a 2015 letter that he had been raped by Apuron in 1977, when he was 13.
“I have waited for this outcome since the day I was raped by Father Apuron when I was his altar boy,” Denton said late Friday night.
‘So glad we stopped being silent’
Roy Quintanilla said he was a 12-year-old altar boy in Agat when he was molested by Apuron about 40 years ago.
“I always believed that the Vatican would find Apuron guilty. How could they not, after our written and personal testimony? This verdict was a long time coming,” said Quintanilla, who now resides in Hawaii.
Quintanilla said Apuron enjoyed the life of being the archbishop of Guam for three decades, “when he really should never have been bishop in the first place.”
“Lucky for him, we remained silent all that time. I am so glad we stopped being silent. The Vatican’s verdict was made possible because Guam’s faithful stood together against an injustice. Although it took me 40 years to come forward, I’m glad I did and I am glad for everyone that came forward to tell their story,” he said.
Joseph A. Quinata was also an altar boy in Agat when Apuron was the parish priest. Quinata’s mother, Doris Concepcion, said that right before her son died, he told her that
Archdiocese will issue statement
The Archdiocese of Agana, now headed by Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes, will be issuing an initial statement Saturday morning regarding Apuron, according to Tony Diaz, director of communications for the archdiocese.
David Sablan, president of the grassroots group Concerned Catholics of Guam, whose actions helped expose abuses by Apuron, said on Friday night that “now that the Vatican tribunal guilty verdict has been rendered, it is time for the Catholic faithful on Guam to begin the healing process of our wounded church on Guam.”
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“Our trust and confidence is now focused on Archbishop Byrnes, who has a huge task ahead of him with full authority as our new Archbishop of Agana. We shall work with him to strengthen our Church in being true to the teaching of Jesus Christ faithfully,” Sablan said. “This is now the mission of CCOG and all Catholics on Guam.”
‘But it’s not over’
Tim Rohr, who blogs about Catholic issues and a strong advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse on Guam, said the Apuron verdict brings a sense of relief.
“But it’s not over. Since he will appeal, this will drag on for at least two more years,” said Rohr, whose blog is at www.junglewatch.info.
In addition to the altar boys, Apuron was accused of sexually abusing his nephew Mark Apuron, who filed a lawsuit against Apuron and the church in January of this year.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Apuron issued a statement saying, “As I lay sick after another surgery and I face the final judgment approaching evermore close, having lost interest in this world, God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one.”
Much of tribunal process conducted in secret
The full membership of the Vatican tribunal is secret: the only member known to the public is Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, a Wisconsin native.
The tribunal had been scheduled to make its ruling twice before Friday: in August and then October last year. But it was delayed, at least in part because new evidence kept coming into light, according to reports in the Italian press.
The Vatican said the decision of the tribunal will become “final and effective” if the tribunal’s decision is upheld. Giovanelli, the canonical law expert, said Pope Francis could choose to intervene, though other sources said that is unlikely.
Giovanelli said Apuron would formally retain the title of archbishop even if the decision is ultimately upheld, though being stripped of his title would mean Apuron would no longer have a pastoral role.
It is not clear what options would be available to Apuron if he remains barred from returning to Guam, though in the past high-ranking church figures accused of misconduct — such as Boston Cardinal Bernard Law — have retired to isolated lives in Rome. But Apuron is the highest ranking church figure to have been convicted in connection with first-hand sexual misconduct. Law and others were accused to helping to cover up such activities.
There is no set time table for how long an appeal would last, according to Chicago native Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for National Catholic Reporter.
“It’s not a transparent process,” McElwee said. “We probably won’t know when it starts, or what is happening in an appeal. We will probably only find out what happens when a statement is suddenly released, the way it was for the tribunal’s ruling” on Friday.
Apuron, in a wheel chair because of health issues, met with Pope Francis a month ago in Paul VI Hall in the Vatican City. Italian media reports said Francis embraced Apuron and whispered a few words into the archbishop’s ear, but Francis made no public statement about Apuron.
Francis, who celebrated his fifth anniversary as pontiff March 13, has repeatedly said the church should take more responsibility for sexual abuse scandals in its past.
Swift rise to power, rapid fall from grace
Apuron, a former altar boy himself, rose from priest to archbishop in just 14 years. He was installed as the leader of the island’s faithful in 1986.
His descent from power was also swift.
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Initially, the archbishop came under scrutiny because of his close ties to the Neocatechumenal Way, a group within the Catholic Church that was often at odds with traditional Catholics on the island. After a multi-million dollar property transfer and the removal of two popular priests, Apuron became the target of public protests.
As critics worked to unseat the archbishop, their efforts uncovered a massive child sex abuse scandal, propelled an overhaul of the archdiocese and changed Guam law. So far, the archdiocese has been named in 159 sex abuse lawsuits.
Language, culture and faith
Apuron was born in November 1945, as the island was emerging from the devastation of World War II. He was related through his mother to Padre Jose Palomo, the first Chamorro priest, according to a booklet prepared for Apuron’s 1986 installation as archbishop.
The booklet said Apuron “springs from the soil of Guam. He breathes the language, culture and faith of the island community.” He served as an altar boy for Father Antonio Cruz at Mongmong Church. Cruz, who died in 1986, has also been named as an abuser in child sex abuse lawsuits filed against the archdiocese.
Apuron graduated from Father Duenas Memorial School and Seminary in 1964 before continuing his studies in the states. He was ordained at Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral by Bishop Felixberto C. Flores in 1972, and he became the associate pastor at Mount Carmel Church in Saipan in 1975. The following year, he was appointed as pastor of Mount Carmel Church in Agat. In 1978 he became rector of the cathedral, and was named auxiliary bishop in 1983.
In 1986, he became the second Chamorro archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agana.
He was known for his outspoken views against gambling, homosexuality and abortion. He used his influence to sway lawmakers on matters of morality, threatening to excommunicate senators who voted against a restrictive abortion law and opposing any effort to legalize gambling.
Early abuse allegation
In late 2014, former Agat altar boy John Toves publicly accused Apuron of sexually abusing a cousin. That cousin did not come forward, and Apuron and the archdiocese threatened to sue Toves.
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In an August 2015 letter to Vatican officials, former Agat altar boy Walter Denton wrote that he had been raped by Apuron as a child. A few months later, after speaking with Denton and former altar boys altar boys Quintanilla and Sondia, blogger Rohr put out a call for anyone who had been abused by a priest to contact him. Dates and church locations listed on his blog corresponded with Apuron’s service locations.
“Since I moved to Guam some 30 years ago or in 1985, I already heard about Apuron and the Agat boys,” Rohr said in a 2017 interview. “There’s always snickers when people talked about Apuron in Agat. There were no names of the boys but I knew something was going on.”
In early May of 2016, full-page ads sponsored by Concerned Catholics of Guam appeared in local newspapers, urging anyone who had been sexually abused by clergy to come forward.
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Quintanilla stood in front of the chancery office and said he was 12 in 1976 when Apuron molested him during a sleepover at the rectory in Agat. After Quintanilla’s story hit the news, Arizona resident Concepcion read about the accusation. She said as her son, former altar boy Joseph A. Quinata, was being wheeled into 2005 surgery, he told her he was also molested by Apuron. Quinata did not survive the surgery.
“We suspected that Apuron already knew about Denton and was probably preparing for it, because Denton already told the Vatican as early as 2015,” Rohr said. “So we planned on having Roy Quintanilla to come forward first, to be followed by Walter, and then Roland. Roy and Walter have been out of Guam for a long time, but Roland has stayed on Guam and a lot of people in the community know Roland and trust him, so we said we’d have Roland to come forward third to seal the deal.”
“After Roy came forward, a woman named Doris Concepcion came forward. We didn’t know about her and her son who was abused by Apuron so that was a surprise for us,” Rohr said.
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Tim Rohr touches upon the persistence of Guam’s Catholic faithful rising up and demanding a change in the archdiocese’s leadership amidst the scores of alleged sexual abuse accusations against its clergymen. Rick Cruz/PDN
At the time, the former Agat altar boys could not sue Apuron or the church because the statute of limitations had expired. However, after the archbishop called the accusers liars, they filed a $2 million defamation suit against the archbishop and the church.
Apuron declared the Concerned Catholics of Guam a prohibited society, banning the faithful from associating with the group and threatening lawsuits against his accusers. A day later, the Vatican announced Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai would be the temporary administrator of the archdiocese. Apuron sent a video from Rome, posted on the archdiocese website, praising Hon’s arrival.
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Changes in Guam law
With the community focused on justice for child sex abuse victims, lawmakers considered removing the statute of limitations for civil suits involving child victims. While testifying in favor of the bill, Leo Tudela said he had been molested by a priest named Louis Brouillard in the 1950s. Later that day, Brouillard was contacted by a Pacific Daily News reporter and said “it’s possible” he molested boys when he was on Guam.
More accusers came forward, naming priests and others who they said abused them decades earlier.
In 2016, the Guam Legislature and later Gov. Eddie Calvo passed and signed into law a bill lifting the statute of limitations to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward and sue their perpetrators, despite the Catholic Church’s lobbying that lawsuits could result in the church’s financial ruin.
In later November 2016, Byrnes arrived on Guam. As coadjutor archbishop, he was designated as Apuron’s replacement should Apuron retire or die. Byrnes worked to rescind many of Apuron’s actions.
Eric J. Lyman reported on this story from Vatican City