Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Guam's Catholic Church in crisis over abuse claims

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai was sent to Guam to investigate the accusations against Archbishop ApuronA Vatican administrator has urged Rome to remove the head of the Catholic Church in Guam over child sex allegations, warning that abuse scandals could bankrupt the church in the predominantly Catholic Pacific territory.

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai was sent to Guam three months ago to investigate the accusations against Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who denies any wrongdoing.

In a statement read out at church services across the island yesterday, Archbishop Hon said he had asked the Holy See to dismiss Archbishop Apuron after the cleric refused to stand down voluntarily.

"I can assure you that the gravely serious allegations against Archbishop Apuron will continue to be dealt with ... a canonical trial," the statement said.

"His Holiness, Pope Francis, is monitoring the proceedings," he added.

A canonical trial is a church-controlled process and takes place behind closed doors. Its strongest sanction is the defrocking of a cleric. 

The allegations date back to the 1970s, with at least four former altar boys saying they were molested by Archbishop Apuron, then a parish priest.

The archbishop, who has headed the Agana archdiocese since 1986, has not been charged with any crime.

Dr Hon's statement did not directly address the veracity of the allegations, instead expressing sorrow over the issue of clerical child abuse.

"On behalf of the church, I want to apologise personally to the survivors of sexual abuse everywhere who have suffered so much at the hands of clergy," he said.

"We cannot undo the betrayal of trust and faith and the horrendous acts that the clergy have committed against the youngest and the most innocent amongst us."

In response to the scandal, Guam's legislature last week unanimously passed a bill allowing child sex abuse victims to take their cases to court, regardless of when the alleged crime was committed.

"Victims often need many years to overcome the pain of their abuse and time to obtain the courage needed to speak out about the abuse that they have suffered," the bill's author Senator Frank Blas said.

However, Archbishop Hon said he would lobby the Governor of the 161,000-strong population, Eddie Calvo, not to sign the bill into law, arguing it would have "damaging unintended consequences" for the church in Guam.

He said a slew of lawsuits about allegations dating back decades would be likely to leave the archdiocese bankrupt, as happened to 13 diocese in the mainland United States.

"Bankruptcy will mean the forced sale of church properties that currently house our schools and social services," he said.

"That will have a devastating effect on education and charitable work."

85% of Guam's population is estimated to be Roman Catholic.

Instead, Dr Hon proposed a fund to provide financial compensation for victims and the establishment of a task force to ensure children were protected.

"I submit that we can and must do these things without destroying all the good being done for our community by our church, both laity and clergy," he said.

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