Archbishop Michael Byrnes said on Monday the Church in Guam is entering a new chapter after the guilty verdict handed down by the Vatican in the sexual abuse case against Archbishop Anthony Apuron.
Byrnes said “It has been a long and painful period” for the Archdiocese of Agaña, but “a new journey forward” can now begin for the Church in Guam.
“We are becoming a better Church, we shall continue to work toward healing and restoration of all who have been victimized by clergy abuse on Guam through a number of ways. This includes the Hope and Healing initiative, which, among other things, helps provide professional counseling to our wounded brethren,” Byrnes said. “We shall continue to work with survivors of clergy abuse and their lawyers to settle all cases fairly and amicably.”
The Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made up of five judges including U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, found Apuron 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,” according to a Vatican statement issued Friday, March 16.
Accusations of sexual abuse against Apuron began surfacing in 2014.
In May 2016, former altar boy Roy T. Quintanilla became the first victim to step forward against the archbishop.
One month later, Pope Francis placed Apuron on leave while he dealt with the charges. Later, the pope named Byrnes as coadjutor archbishop.
“I convey my deepest apologies to Roy Quintanilla, Walter Denton, Roland Paul Sonida, and the late Joseph ‘Sonny’ Quinata for the tremendous damage inflicted upon each of you,” Byrnes said during a March 19 press conference.
“I apologize to [the victims’ families] too, most certainly to Doris Concepcion, who stepped forward courageously to speak and lobby on behalf of her son, Sonny,” the archbishop continued. “I issue this public apology on behalf of the entire Archdiocese of Agana.”
Guam, a Pacific territory of the United States, has a population of around 160,000, with 75 percent of the people being Catholic.
“Members of our Church, our island community, even those who have watched closely from beyond the seas, surely ask ‘now what?’” Byrnes said.
“In many ways this is new, historic, unprecedented grounds on which our archdiocese stands,” he continued. “I do not have all the answers.”
Apuron has always denied the charges, and issued a statement proclaiming his innocence after the Vatican confirmed his conviction: “God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process.”
His civil attorney, Jacque Terlaje, confirmed Apuron is appealing the Vatican court’s decision.
“First of all, I want to reiterate that Archbishop Anthony was actually acquitted of the majority of the charges against him. I think this is an important fact that has been underplayed by many of the media outlets that are out there,” he told KUAM News.
Byrnes said regardless of any appeal by Apuron – whom he insisted should be called ‘bishop’ and not ‘archbishop’ after the Vatican court’s decision – the focus of the archdiocese would now be on “penance and reparation.”
The archbishop said he was praying for Apuron and his victims and asked the people of Guam to do the same.
“With humility, I ask the faithful to also assist him [Apuron] in prayer and penance, that he may find grace in repentance and mercy for his soul,” Byrnes said.