The latest sex abuse scandal to rock the Catholic Church shines a spotlight on the small, predominantly Catholic U.S. territory of Guam.
According to an ongoing investigation by the USA Today Network’s Pacific Daily News, Guam’s Archdiocese of Agana is listed as a defendant in 96 lawsuits detailing abuses spanning nearly four decades.
Two archbishops of Agana, as well as multiple priests, bishops, teachers and even Boy Scouts leaders on the Western Pacific island are implicated in the suits.
The lawsuits alleged that leaders repeatedly preyed on children, some as young as seven years old, and include claims of molestation, rape, and priests exposing themselves and displaying pornography in the company of young altar boys.
Louis Brouillard, who served as a priest and scoutmaster on Guam from 1948 to 1981, is named in 55 lawsuits and has admitted to abusing at least 20 boys on the island. In an interview with the Associated Press last year, Brouillard, now 96, said other priests on the island who he confided in advised him to pray and “do better.”
Brouillard, who currently lives in Minnesota, still receives a monthly stipend of $550 from the Archdiocese of Agana, reported Pacific Daily News.
Also named in the suits is Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who was accused of assaulting numerous boys during the 1970s. Pope Francis suspended Apuron in June of 2016 after allegations of sex abuse emerged, and the Pacific Daily News investigation reported that the Vatican is conducting a discreet trial that could lead to his removal from the clergy.
Apuron has denied the charges.
William Payne, who is among Agana’s accusers, said that his parents “raised him to honor and respect the priest, and told him that he had to do what the priest told him to do,” according to his suit, obtained by Pacific Daily News. Payne said he was “instilled with the belief that clergy are never wrong, and that the clergy were like Jesus.”
Last year, Guam lawmakers passed a bill that retroactively eliminated the statute of limitations for civil suits involving child sexual abuse. Lawyers representing the archdiocese, Apuron, the Boy Scouts and two other accused clergy members have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits, claiming that the bill was unconstitutional.
Apuron, who still holds the title of archbishop, can not be tried criminally due to the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution.
The lawsuits rocking Guam come as another prominent Catholic leader ― top-ranking Vatican official Cardinal George Pell ― stands for “historical sexual assault offenses” in Australia, where there is no statute of limitations for such cases. Like Apuron, Pell has denied the charges against him.
In predominantly Catholic Guam, clergy sex abuse lawsuits near 100-mark
CNC Catholic News Agency
08 August 2017
.- Nearly 100 lawsuits have accused Catholic clergy in Guam of sex abuse over a 50 year timespan, alleging assault, manipulation and intimidation of the alleged victims, according to a new report.
The accused include Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 13 Guam priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor and a Boy Scout leader. The Archdiocese of Agana is a defendant in 96 lawsuits, which concern claims from 1955 to 1994, reports the USA Today Network’s Pacific Daily News.
“We care deeply about every person who steps forward and we look forward to a full resolution of all cases,” the archdiocese said July 28, saying it takes all allegations “very seriously.”
The large number of lawsuits is in part due to the actions of lawmakers in September 2016, when they retroactively eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse. The criminal statute of limitations, which cannot be applied retroactively, was lifted in 2011.
About 85 percent of Guam’s population of 163,000 people is Catholic, served by 26 parishes. The island is only 30 miles long and about one-fifth the size of Rhode Island. All eight of Guam’s trial judges have recused themselves because they have family or business ties with either the plaintiffs or the defendants in the suits.
The charges against the archbishop allege sexual abuse of four altar boys in the 1970s. Archbishop Apuron, 71, has denied the charges and his attorney has filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits.
In June 2016, Pope Francis stripped the archbishop of his authority and named a temporary apostolic administrator, reportedly at Archbishop Apuron’s request.
The archbishop is facing a church trial that could dismiss him from the clergy. The presiding judge at the tribunal was Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
In October 2016 the Pope named Archbishop Michael Byrnes of Detroit to run the archdiocese. He is designated to succeed Archbishop Apuron eventually.
The archdiocese responded to abuse charges in a November 2016 statement, saying “The Church on Guam has a duty and desire to render pastoral care to all of its faithful, most especially those who have been severely wounded by those holding trusted positions in our Archdiocese. We are strengthening our work in this area and pledge to provide a safe environment for all children and all people entrusted in our care.”
The Boy Scouts of America is a co-defendant in 52 lawsuits. One accused priest served as a scoutmaster. Altar boys were sometimes required to join the Boy Scouts, and scouts were encouraged to serve in the church. The organization is accused of ignoring abuse and enabling clergy to exploit boys.
The elimination of the statute of limitations for lawsuits is facing challenge from attorneys representing the archdiocese, Archbishop Apuron, the Boy Scouts, retired Bishop Thomas Camacho of Saipan, and Rev. David Anderson. The attorneys have argued the law is unconstitutional.
A federal judge temporarily halted most of the clergy abuse lawsuits to allow for a process for out-of-court settlements. Church-owned properties could be sold to finance any settlements.
Fr. Louis Brouillard, 96, now living in Minnesota, is accused of abuse in 55 lawsuits. He served on Guam from 1948 to 1981, including time as a scoutmaster. In October 2016, he admitted to sexually abusing 20 or more boys in an affidavit obtained by an investigator employed by attorney David Lujan. Lujan is representing 75 plaintiffs in the lawsuits.
In the affidavit the priest said that fellow clergy, including then-bishop Apollinaris Baumgarter, who passed away in 1970, knew of his actions. They told him to “try to do better” and to say prayers in penance, he claimed.
One of Fr. Brouillard’s accusers said that in 1975 the priest told him, “If you tell anyone, no one will believe you because I am a priest.”
According to some lawsuits, alleged victims said they were too scared to tell their parents, or reported the abuse to adults but weren’t believed. Two lawsuits said that accusers reported the abuse to police, but the Guam Police Department says it has no records of these reports.
Some lawsuits charge that alleged abusers told their victims the sexual acts were penance or needed to earn Boy Scout merit badges.
A Church-run counseling program, called “Hope and Healing Guam,” aims to provide help for victims.
Some lawsuits speak of the effect of the abuse on the alleged victims’ faith, with at least one victim reporting he has left the Church. Other alleged victims have not.
When the first group of former altar boys filed their lawsuit in 2016, their attorney Lujan said they “hope and pray that the Church flourishes for another 2,000 years.”
Guam resident Mae Reyes Ada, 74, told Pacific Daily News she sometimes feels embarrassed and guilty she did not speak out in the 1970s when she heard rumors of clergy abuse.
Ada has joined protests advocating Archbishop Apuron be permanently removed.
“The Church is going through purging and cleansing,” she said. “It takes somebody with a strong faith to fight this war.”
Another demonstrator at July 14 protests seeking the archbishop’s removal, 14-year-old Jaden Comon, said he was present “to help these people in their fight against the evils that have infiltrated our Church.”
Comon himself aspires to become a priest, saying, “It’s our responsibility, especially when we were baptized in the faith, to come and help.”