HAGATNA, Guam — One by one, they file into a darkened room to have their pictures taken, gracious while loosening their grip on long-held secrets. Each brings along a childhood photo of himself at around the age when they say they were abused by Catholic clergy.
They’re men now, some gray and balding, others who have just filled out in the face a little. Yet they still resemble their boyhood photos. For some, it has been 50 or 60 years since that child laughed with innocence intact. The photos are painful reminders of a happier time, or of what might have been a happier life.
RELATED: Guam’s Catholics reckon with decades of ‘horrific’ sex abuse
Their lawsuits are among at least 223 that have been filed alleging abuse by 35 clergymen, teachers and Boy Scout leaders tied to the Catholic Church. In response, the Guam archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, estimating at least $45 million in liabilities, and survivors have until Aug. 15 to file for a financial settlement.
Melvin Duenas, 58, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 11 years old, the age when he says in a lawsuit he was sexual abused by Tomas Camacho and Louis Brouillard, both Catholic priests at the churches where Duenas served as an altar boy, in Hagatna, Guam, Monday, May 13, 2019. “We were taught that when we see a priest we run over there and kneel down,” said Duenas. “We looked at them as God himself. I always wanted to be a priest myself. I told my dad shortly after (the abuse happened) and he hit me and said ‘don’t ever talk about a priest like that.’ I tried to commit suicide. I was so upset at God. I tried to numb my thoughts and started drinking. I was a drug addict by the age of 15. A lot of darkness, it just follows me.” Camacho and Brouillard are now dead. Brouillard acknowledged abuse allegations before he died. (Credit: David Goldman/AP.)
Melvin Duenas, 58, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 11 years old, the age when he says he was sexually molested by two priests. Until then, he says, he looked at priests as God himself.
“I tried to commit suicide,” he says. “I was so upset at God. I tried to numb my thoughts and started drinking. I was a drug addict by the age of 15. A lot of darkness, it just follows me.”
Troy Torres, 38, holds a photo of himself when he was about 12 years old, in Hagatna, Guam, Saturday, May 11, 2019. Torres says in a lawsuit he was sexually molested at age 13 by Ray Caluag, the music and religion teacher at Saint Anthony Catholic School where he attended. “I wanted to say something to stop what I knew was wrong. I didn’t and I was always trapped by that. Every time it happened after that I was trapped by this sense of guilt. I’d gone too far. I’d already done something so wrong, said Torres. “It just happened so quickly and at the same time not quick enough. And I always thought it was my fault. I always thought that I was a really bad person for not shouting out ‘no get away from me. No don’t do this.’ Many times I questioned my courage. Why wasn’t I brave enough?” The AP was unable to reach Caluag for comment. Videos on the internet show Caluag conducting a Catholic youth orchestra in the Philippines. (Credit: David Goldman/AP.)
For Troy Torres, 38, it’s been nearly a quarter century of questioning not his abuser but himself, for what he sees as a lack of the courage to stop his abuser. Torres says he was sexually molested at the age of 13.
“Why wasn’t I brave enough?” he asks. “I always thought it was my fault.”
A sexual abuse survivor who would only go by the initials C.M.V., 58, sits behind a photo of himself when he was about 11 years old, in Hagatna, Guam, Saturday, May 11, 2019. C.M.V. says in a lawsuit he was sexually molested between the ages of 9 and 13 by Monsignor Jose Ada Leon Guerrero, a priest at the time at Nino Perdido y Sagrada Familia Catholic Church where C.M.V. served as an altar boy. “I try not to think about it,” said C.M.V. about his abuse before becoming too overcome with emotion to continue talking about it. Guerrero is now dead. (Credit: David Goldman/AP.)
Another man, now 58, who gives only his initials, C.M.V., looks at a photo of his 11-year-old self and shakes his head.
“I try not to think about it,” he says, before becoming too overcome with emotion to continue. He thanks me for taking his picture and somberly walks out.
Each of these men now bravely sits before the camera, wanting to be heard and believed — even if it’s too hard to get the words out.
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