Archdiocese of Agana Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes said he is still trying to figure out the details of the long awaited announcement from Rome about the secret trial of the now former archbishop and the more recent rejection of Apuron's appeal of its verdict. Byrnes told reporters on Guam Friday that these details remain "blurry" to him and likely to the Catholic faithful on the island.
One thing is certain. Apuron remains a priest, though he would have to obtain permission from superiors to perform priestly functions. In the strict sense of the word, Apuron has been defrocked: "There is certain clothing he cannot wear now as a bishop. He can't wear the zucchetto , he can't wear the mitre, he can't wear the ring. There's a certain kind of cassock a bishop would wear. He can't wear that one"
The conviction has a very direct effect on the former archbishop's life: "It means he can never come back to Guam, which is relatively severe. He can still act as a priest, say mass, though it's my understanding that he would have to be in a place where a bishop would allow him to say mass.
Could Apuron, a Guam native, be buried on the island? Also unclear to his successor.
Byrnes said he will seek further clarification of a number of details from the Vatican.
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Following the trial at the Vatican last year, Apuron was convicted by the Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is among the highest-ranking church leaders to have been tried by the Vatican for sexual offenses, which are among the prohibitions of the 6th Commandment, generally summarized as "Do not commit adultery."
"What that means," Byrnes explained, "is that it includes all the various other sins.It includes rape, it includes breaking the rule of chastity, so it's a serious crime and then you add, with minors, that's an even more serious crime," though Byrnes said some have already suggested that it can't be considered that serious by the church, since Apuron was not laicized.
"The main thing is, he was found guilty of what in our parlance right now was child sexual abuse."
Those who claimed to have been abused by Apuron were former altar boys, Roy Quintanilla, Walter Denton, Roland Paul Sondia, and the late Joseph “Sonny” Quinata, who was represented by his mother Doris Concepcion, and the archbishop’s nephew, Mark M. Apuron.
Apuron is among the several clergy members accused of sexually assaulting minors. More than 200 cases have been filed in court, prompting the Archdiocese of Agana to file for bankruptcy last year.
"The church does not rejoice when members of the church plummet from grace. and are found guilty of grave wrong, in this case of the grievous sin of child abuse. It is a deep and sorrowful shame," Byrnes said, emphasizing a wide range of efforts aimed at protecting young persons from abuse by those in authority.
Byrnes said he had only spoken to his predecessor once, before he was sent to Guam. Asked by reporters if he was surprised that Apuron had not apologized to the victims in the case, Byrnes said, "Sadly, no." The archbishop said that if he had another opportunity to speak to Apuron, he would offer a simple and brief piece of advice: "Repent."