Archbishop Michael Byrnes on Monday apologized to all clerical sex abuse victims, expressing hope that the conviction of his predecessor, Anthony Apuron, brings closure to “a long and painful period” for Guam’s Catholic community.
“I issue this public apology on behalf of the entire Archdiocese of Agana. Our Church is One Body in Christ, so we weep as one at the grave harm our family members have endured,” Byrnes said, reading a prepared statement at a press conference Monday. “Our Church is One Body in Christ, so we hang our heads in shame for the grave evil one member inflicted upon others, in this case the most vulnerable.”
Archbishop Michael Byrnes answers reporters' questions during a press conference at
St Paul The Great Center in Hagatna Monday, March 19, 2018. Photo by Johanna Salinas
Byrnes, however, was uncertain about the implication of the Vatican’s verdict on the civil lawsuits filed in federal court by sex abuse victims.
As the civil cases and properties for sale still loom over the Church, Byrnes only predicted vaguely that “the verdict means that something is happening.”
Apuron, who has been accused of abusing minors among others, has been found guilty of “certain of the accusations” lodged against him, but the disgraced prelate is appealing the Vatican’s verdict.
A 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 banishment from Guam.
The Vatican tribunal did not say how many charges have been filed against Apuron and did not specify the nature of the offenses for which he was convicted.
Byrnes, who has been appointed to lead the Guam church in 2016, seeks to heal a community that has been suffering in silence for several decades.
“I convey my deepest apologies to Mr. Roy Quintanilla, Mr. Walter Denton, Mr. Roland Paul Sondia, and the late Joseph ‘Sonny’ Quinata for the tremendous damage inflicted upon each of you by now Bishop Apuron and the Archdiocese of Agana,” he said.
“Your families have suffered as well. I apologize to them too, most certainly to Doris Concepcion who stepped forward courageously to speak and lobby on behalf of her son, Sonny,” added.
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Details of Apuron’s canonical trial and conviction remained under covers. “I’m not competent to interpret the different canonical matters contained in their communication,” Byrnes said. “That competence and expertise remains with the Holy Sea.”
Although the trial’s details remained vague, the verdict gave sigh of relief for Byrnes.
Though he still encourages the community to pray for Apuron, Byrnes’s is unsure of whether to still mention Apuron in mass and in the schools. “Certain things will change, but I haven’t had anything planned yet.”
“I can’t say I have all the vision forward. Unity is a strong force with us and that’s something we’ve been seeking for a while. What does the Church of Guam want to be? What does the Church of Guam want its mission to be? Why did God put us here? What is our mission here in the Pacific? I can’t be the only one to determine that. Right now I think it’s an exploratory journey.”
Byrnes ended his speech with, “Above all, we lift up those who have been wounded by abuse and we strive to devote all our efforts to ensure that this never occurs again.”
Despite his own personal worries for the Church, Byrnes’s main concern is the victims. Their emotional wounds were decades old and are just starting to heal. The victims have faced backlash for speaking out against the Church because in a way it meant speaking out against the Chamorro traditions. But Byrnes does not wish to discredit the victims pain. He prays that this kind of hurt never happens again.
Byrnes mentioned the new Virtus program to train the Catholic Church’s employees and volunteers to help prevent abuse. “The online program just takes about two hours to complete and then they’ll later get periodic updates, just like little refreshers.”
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