Nearly 100 lawsuits have accused Catholic clergy in Guam of sex abuse over a 50 year time span, 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. 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 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 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, Apuron, the Boy Scouts, retired Bishop Thomas Camacho of Saipan, and Father 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.
Father 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 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 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.”