As sex abuse lawsuits against members of the Guam clergy continue to mount, Archbishop Michael Byrnes is saddled with the question: “When will it ever stop?”
“The question grows larger when we find out that the number of perpetrators [on the U.S. mainland and elsewhere] includes bishops and at least one cardinal,” Byrnes said in an open letter to the Catholic faithful. “And while some, even the Holy Father, are alleged to be complicit in covering up the misdeeds of fellow bishops, meaningful evidence must be brought forward.”
The number of cases against local priests, including the convicted Archbishop Anthony Apuron and other retired members of the clergy accused of having abused altar servers, is now close to 200.
Apuron, who was found guilty in March after a trial in Vatican, has appealed his conviction. Last month, Pope Francis vowed to expedite the resolution of Apuron’s case by personally looking into his appeal.
“Yes, more is needed with respect to investigations, processes and procedures, but we have limited access to that effort,” Byrnes said. “What I pledge right now is to take advantage of the spiritual helps to godliness and holiness appropriate to my vocation: the Liturgy of the Hours, the Sacrament of Penance, personal prayer, study of the Scripture, almsgiving, and godly conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is spearheading the investigations into clerical sex abuse cases. “His pledge to bring to the Holy Father a proposal for prompt, fair, and transparent procedures for dealing with the sins of the hierarchy gives me good hope,” Byrnes said.
In the next few weeks, the Church will proceed with the mediation process to determine a compensation plan for the more than 180 victims of clerical sex abuse. The lawsuits filed by former altar servers are projected to cost the Church an estimated $600 million in court judgement. In March, the Archdiocese of Agana announced plans to sell the historic Chancery property in Hagatna to raise funds for victim compensation.
“We want meaningful action. Justice must be served. And while spiritual efforts are fruitful and effective in the eyes of God, something more is necessary,” Byrnes said.
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While acknowledging that the Church would not be able to fully repay “what was taken” from the sex abuse victims, Byrnes said they will be offered “a token of justice” through financial remuneration.
“Yet it is a tangible sign that demonstrates that we know a wrong has been done and there is a debt of justice to be paid,” he added. “Ideally, it would be the perpetrators themselves who would be brought to justice; but time and distance preclude it at this time.”
But the burden that the Church carries does not end with settling the lawsuits and compensating the victims. The potential recurrences of clerical sex abuses remain a threat.
“So, how do we get it to stop?” Byrnes asked. “We are dealing with moral and spiritual evils, so a spiritual and moral response is necessary.”
For an answer, the archbishop refers to a biblical passage. "All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures."