VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has named a successor to Guam’s archbishop, who is accused of sexually molesting altar boys, tapping an American and giving him special authority in the Pacific island archdiocese.
Bishop Michael Jude Byrnes, currently an auxiliary bishop in Detroit, is moving to the U.S. territory as a coadjutor bishop. Coadjutors have succession rights when bishops resign, retire or are removed.
Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 70, has been accused of molesting at least five altar boys in the 1960s and ’70s. He has denied the allegations, has not been charged and has refused calls to step down.
In response to the allegations, the Vatican appointed a temporary apostolic administrator for Guam.
Byrnes’ nomination Monday suggests a more permanent solution, but there was no word on when the succession would occur. Though Monday’s statement did not specify what the “special faculties” for Byrnes would be, presumably they’re designed to allow him to begin taking charge immediately rather than waiting for Apuron to reach the normal retirement age for bishops of 75.
Byrnes, 58, was born in Detroit and ordained to the priesthood in 1996. He became an auxiliary bishop of Detroit in 2011. Prior to that, he had served as vice rector of Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai, the Vatican-appointed temporary administrator in Guam, publicly suggested in September that it was time for Apuron to be removed after at least three men had come forward alleging they had been abused by Apuron in the 1970s when they were altar boys.
Catholic leaders in Guam have also expressed concerns about a push on the island to suspend the statute of limitations for abuse-related lawsuits, warning that it could cause Catholic schools and parishes serving poor populations to close.