Archdiocese of Agana Archbishop Michael Byrnes put on a game face for what had to be one of the more difficult days of many such since he arrived on Guam at the direction of Rome to deal with the scandals left by the tenure of Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron.
Archbishop Byrnes had first announced the possibility of the sale of the historic San Ramon Hill property and others belonging to the church late last year, but the reality of having to proceed clearly added on a new level of humiliation for the church.
“The Archdiocese is in the process of evaluating these sexual abuse claims on an individual basis. This is all part of the mediation protocol. And in the end, it will necessitate the selling of the properties owned by the Archdiocese. We anticipate that the relocation of the Chancery offices will take place in September 2018.
Since Byrnes’ arrival the number of such cases filed in local courts have risen from 10 to upwards of 160. After months of waiting for the results of Archbishop Apuron’s canonical trial from Rome, it was announced recently that he had been found guilty of “certain of the accusations” lodged against him.
The five-judge apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced its verdict in a brief press statement on March 16, imposing a penalty of Apuron’s removal from office and a prohibition of him being resident on Guam. The tribunal did not say how many charges had been filed against Apuron or specify the nature of the offenses for which he was convicted. Apuron is appealing the Vatican’s verdict.
But as the mediation process moves forward, Archbishop Byrnes said the Diocese of Agana had no figure on the value of the Chancery property and no pending offers from potential buyers or bidders, nor has an appraisal been done. According to the Diocese, official records indicate that the Chancery property on San Ramon Hill was acquired as a gift from the Estate of Henry Flores Nelson in 1950.
Many values of such a property are intangible, such as its history and the only Papal visit ever to Guam was centered there, 37 years ago.
“One of the highlights of the history is the visit of Pope John Paul II, who spent the night in the residence. I know that very much, because there are plaques all over the house. ‘Pope John Paul slept in this room,’ ‘Pope John Paul resided in this house for a day,’ ‘Pope John Paul prayed at this place’ and there’s a nice little portrait of the Holy Father signed to Archbishop [Felixberto] Flores and Archbishop Apuron back then,” Byrnes said.
“At a certain point we realized, well, we don’t absolutely need to be here. It is a property that we could give up. It’s not uncommon on the mainland that the pastoral center would be one of the things that is liquidated.”
With the huge number of cases to mediated and others remaining before the courts, Archbishop Byrnes was asked if the income that could be generated by the property sales would be sufficient to cover the settlements.
Pale San Vitores statue on the Chancery grounds
“We’re going to lean most on insurance and I think we’ve made that clear going forward. The problem, again, is dealing with property. It’s what the seller will accept and the buyer will pay. There’s a real fluidity on the range of prices we could get… The vast majority would have to be set aside for the mediation process.”
Archbishop Byrnes was also asked if there was a possibility of a philanthropic takeover of the property allowing the church to remain, given how reluctant a prospective developer might be to demolish the Chancery site for another purpose.
“We’d love it if someone would just come in and buy it. Right now we don’t have any such people in mind. Nonetheless, I feel it’s [the sale] something we have to do.”
“And of course, for me, I’ve got to move,” Archbishop Byrnes said. “It’s not like I’ve got a lot of stuff here, but the older you get, it’s kind of a pain to move. But it’s necessary and it does indicate we’re turning another page in the book, so I think there’s something symbolic that’s happening here.”
Seeking a lighter note, after promising forthcoming information on the state of church finances, Archbishop Byrnes said, “We’ll let you know when the garage sale happens.”