The Catholic Church of Guam has been in the middle of a vortex of controversy this past few months with allegations of sexual abuse leveled at Anthony Apuron, appointment of an apostolic administrator at the helm of the archdiocese, and the continuing Redemptorist property tug-of-war.
The Concerned Catholics of Guam (CCOG) has been at the forefront of the movement seeking reforms in the church.
David J. Sablan, CCOG president sat down with the Pacific Island Times to talk about the genesis of the organization, the impact of the church moral crisis to the Catholic faithful.
What is the CCOGs mission?
Among its objectives are to achieve financial transparency and consistent financial reporting in the archdiocese and in the parishes around the island; represent the concerns of the laity in regards to any archdiocesan decision to alienate real property, especially property which was given to the church for a specific purpose; provide an official forum for complaints and concerns from the laity and clergy; provide a forum and representation assistance for those who have been abused by the religious and clergy in Guam; and encourage the Catholic faithful in the belief and practice of the Catholic religion in matters of rites, liturgies and rubrics as approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites.
What prompted the creation of this group?
By 2014, two priests, Fr. Paul Gofigan (removed from Santa Barbara parish, Dededo in 2013); and Msgr. James Benavente (removed as Cathedral-Basilica rector in 2014) were accused of misdeeds and in the case of Msgr. James Benavente — mishandling finances of the Cathedral-Basilica and funds and assets of the Cemeteries of Guam Inc.— so, we decided to form CCOG to help with the financial situation of the Archdiocese and to work toward having these two priests reinstated and their good names cleared of any wrongdoing, as we discovered that these accusations against them were false.
The alleged sex abuse by the clergy happened way back in the 70s, why is that these claims came out just now?
When John Toves accused Archbishop Apuron last year of sexually molesting his cousin (John never revealed who is cousin is honoring his cousin's request not to reveal his name), I believe it emboldened others to consider coming forward in public to talk about the abuse they endured at the hands of Archbishop Apuron when he was a pastor at Mt. Carmel Parish in Agat. CCOG decided to help these survivors seek closure to their terrible experiences, by providing them a confidential and private means to call us and we will put them in touch with an attorney or other professional to counsel them.
Do you think the Church's apparent moral crisis affects the faith of Catholics?
Yes. We have lost confidence in Archbishop Apuron to be our moral guidance. His officials at the Chancery — Msgr. David C. Quitugua and Fr. Adrian Cristobal and Fr. Pius Sammut, presumably his private advisor — were also allegedly engaged in deceit and corruption in abusing the patrimony
of the Church. CCOG wants Apuron removed as Archbishop of Agana, and we are working on this. We also want the Yona property returned to the patrimony of the Archdiocese of Agana because Apuron gave it away with no return benefit for the Church on Guam. These clergymen violated the trust the people placed in them to take care of the assets of the Church and be holy men to guide us morally.
Is there war between the traditional Catholicism vs the Neocatechumenal Way?
There is no such thing as a “traditional Catholic” on Guam. The vast majority of us are simply Catholics. On the other side, we have the Neocatechumenal Way members and hierarchy would are not Catholic because they are not following the requirements of the Holy See in how they perform the solemn sacrifice of the Mass; how they are to receive the Body and Blood of Christ at Communion; and their teachings of our faith is heresy. One teaching is: "Christ is a Sinner." This is heresy--against the teachings of the Catholic Church.