Update: Guilty verdict for Guam archbishop, appeal to follow

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Guam's Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica. Credit: Public Domain.

On Friday the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced the conclusion of a year-long trial against an archbishop in Guam, stating that he has been found guilty of some charges stemming from allegations of sexual abuse of minors and has been removed from office. 


A source close to the case has confirmed that the archbishop has already appealed the decision. 


According to a March 16 statement from the Apostolic Tribunal of the CDF, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 72, was found guilty of “certain” accusations and penalized with removal from the office and prohibition from residing within the Archdiocese of Guam.


The CDF did not state the charges for which the archbishop was found guilty. Sources close to the case told CNA that the archbishop was found guilty of a minority of the allegations leveled against him.


If the archbishop has been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, the penalty leveled against him is unusual - often a cleric found guilty of such crimes would be "laicized," or removed from the clerical state, sources say.

Sources also noted that the archbishop has seemingly maintained his ecclesiastical faculties, and though restricted from residence in Guam, is apparently able to exercise ministry as a priest.


A source close to the case told CNA that the penalty is "a complete contradiction" to the sentence.


The source said that if the archbishop is guilty of sexual abuse against minors, "justice would demand the strongest possible penalty," adding "this punishment maintains the status quo." 

One expert suggested to the CNA that the five-judge panel may have been divided on the archbishop's guilt, which could explain the disparity between a guilty verdict and an unusually light sanction.

One source questioned whether pressure to quickly resolve the matter might have influenced the sentence.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura, is the case's only judge to be publicly identified.

"It is difficult to explain how such a serious-minded and competent canonist would put his name to something like this," a source close to the case said of Burke, noting questions raised about the sentence and delays in the case's adjudication.

Apuron was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority by Pope Francis in 2016, in the wake of the allegations, and was effectively replaced by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, formerly of Detroit.


The canonical trial against Apuron began in October 2016, with Cardinal Burke appointed by Pope Francis as the trial’s presiding judge. Byrnes told reporters that the Vatican reached a decision on the case in October 2017, though no information regarding its outcome had yet been released.


Sources questions why the CDF delayed finalizing sentences apparently completely in mid-2017. The archbishop is reported to have been notified of the court's decision only recently, and it was not made publicly known until today.


One source close to the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam questioned whether Archbishop Byrnes pushed the Vatican to release the sentence in order to resolve public concern about the matter in Guam. 


However, the source questioned whether Byrnes has been appropriately advised on the matter. "Most of the people who were opposed to [Apuron] in terms of governance" have become advisers to Byrnes, the source said.

"The curial advice Byrnes is receiving is institutionally and personally opposed to Apuron."


In the early hours of March 17 on Guam, Apuron released a statement through his attorney.


"I have been informed of the conclusion of the first instance canonical trial against me. 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," the statement read.


"Today, my prayers are with the Church in Guam, which has been suffering greatly. I pray that Santa Marian Kamalen may intercede for the healing of our island," Apuron continued.
 

Until appeals are resolved, “the imposed penalties are suspended until the final resolution” of the trial, according to the CDF.  


A source told CNA that the credibility of the witnesses will be a major factor of the appeal. Questions have been raised regarding connections between the witnesses, attorneys, and real estate developers on Guam.


The prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, will determine whether or not to accept the appeal, and then be responsible for appointing judges to consider it.


The most recent allegation against Apuron was made Jan. 10 by the archbishop’s nephew, Mark Apuron. He filed a lawsuit Jan. 10 claiming that his uncle raped him in a Church bathroom in 1989 or 1990. This was the fifth lawsuit to accuse the archbishop of sexual abuse of minors during his time as a pastor and bishop.


The archbishop denied the allegations in a statement Jan. 18, writing, “God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one,” according to Guam Pacific Daily News.


In addition to this claim, Apuron also faced four other accusations from former altar boys, who charged the archbishop with abuse in the 1970s when he served as a parish priest in Agat.

The first allegations against the archbishop were made public in May 2016. Mark’s attorney, David Lujan, said that his client was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family about the alleged abuse until recently.

Archbishop Byrnes, who is empowered by the Vatican to oversee the Archdiocese of Agana but has not yet formally succeeded Apuron, has since implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that Byrnes said will “help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese.”

Byrnes adopted in February 2017 the US bishops’ conference’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

The Archdiocese of Agaña is currently a defendant in 96 sexual abuse lawsuits, involving Apuron, 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor, and a Boy Scout leader. Most of the lawsuits were filed after 2016, when Guam’s territorial legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.


CNA staff contributed to this report.



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