An archbishop accused of the sexual abuse of minors and convicted by a Vatican court “of certain … accusations” was given a place of honor at a recent event attended by Pope Francis.
Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron was seen seated with other bishops and prelates on Saturday at a papal event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way movement, which was founded in Spain.
In March, a canonical trial found Apuron, accused among other things of the sexual abuse of five minors, guilty of some of the charges and imposed that he leave his position as archbishop and never return to Guam.
Apuron has consistently denied the charges, and his lawyers have said he is appealing the decision.
Over 150,000 people from 135 countries attended the event at the “Tor Vergata” University grounds, on the Roman outskirts. It is unclear if Francis was aware of Apuron’s presence. A Vatican spokesman refused to comment.
The Neocatechumenal Way has drawn criticism from some bishops, who accuse it of sect-like behavior and causing divisions in the local Church.
Apuron has been a firm supporter of the movement and even gave it a seminary on the island of Guam.
His successor, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, has put restrictions on the movement in Guam, and has ordered it to “pause” creating new prayer communities.
Francis came under criticism during his January visit to Chile when Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who’s accused of having covered up for the country’s most notorious pedophile priest Father Fernando Karadima, was allowed to play a prominent role in papal celebrations.
The pope later said Barros’ accusers were guilty of “calumny,” causing one of the worst scandals of his pontificate.
The pontiff was also criticized for greeting Brother Mariano Varona, a Marist brother who was charged with covering up abuse cases in the country. (Varona has since died.)
Last weekend, Francis met with three Chilean abuse survivors and “asked for…forgiveness” after sending sexual abuse expert Archbishop Charles Scicluna to investigate their claims in February.