Friday, September 16, 2016

New legislation to help uncover abuse in Guam's Catholic Church

Archbishop Anthony Apuron A bill that would enable victims of historical sexual abuse in Guam to file civil action is a step closer to becoming law.

A victims advocate says it could have tremendous implications for the Catholic Church which has been hit by more allegations of abuse by Guam's Archbishop and other clergy members.

"My name is Ramon Afaisan de Plata. When I was 10 years old in March 1964 I witnessed Pale Antonio Cruz and Anthony Apuron molest an altar boy."
The latest accusation of sexual abuse made against Guam's Archbishop Anthony Apuron who was a seminarian at the time, and a now deceased priest, Reverend Antonio Cruz. During a media conference posted on the Pacific Daily News website, 62 year-old Ramon De Plata went on to describe how he saw Anthony Apuron performing oral sex on the boy, who was then just 10 years-old. The allegation of abuse in the 1960s follows four earlier claims the Archbishop molested or raped altar boys in the 1970s. Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests spokesperson Joelle Casteix says the fresh allegation suggests the abuse was more widespread.
"If it goes as far back as the 1960s we're going to see that there was a web of abuse and coverup that went back much bigger and much further than we really even know right now."
The most recent allegations come as Guam's legislature has unanimously approved a bill that would lift the two-year statute of limitations for filing civil action in sexual abuse cases. The bill would allow civil action to be taken against alleged perpetrators of historical abuse and the institutions that protected them. Joelle Casteix says that makes it very powerful, enabling victims to access church files, and force church officials to reveal what they know about abuse under oath.
"Any church-run investigation is not going to be robust and is going to do its best to protect those that they believe need to be protected. What the civil law will do it will give victims access to the civil courts and by far we have seen it is the most effective way to get to the truth about abuse and coverup in institutional settings."
A former sex abuse response co-ordinator for the church in Guam Deacon Steve Martinez believes the diocese in Guam is heading in the right direction by hiring an independent investigator to look into the allegations against Father Cruz. Archbishop Apuron has also been stood down, while the Vatican investigates the allegations against him to ensure there is no conflict of interest. But Deacon Martinez says he's concerned he's seen no evidence that investigation has even begun, despite the Vatican having been informed about at least one of the allegations over a year ago.
"Why it's taken so long is known only by Rome. I believe Pope Francis is serious when he says he wants these investigations to take place. Those that are working for the Pope need to initiate and conclude investigations on a much more timely basis."
Deacon Martinez agrees the latest allegations indicate the abuse was not isolated. He says the church needs to find out how many victims are out there.
"More times than not it is a habitual problem. So it doesn't surprise me there were allegations in the 70s that went back into the 60s. There's the possibility of issues in the 80s and 90s and perhaps even up to more recent times."
Joe Santos led the Silent No More Campaign, delivering a petition with three-thousand signatures supporting the new bill to the Guam legislature last week. He says he hopes the legislation will encourage others to speak out about abuse.
"If they see the courage of these individuals that will be bringing up lawsuits against maybe the priests and the Archbishop it will give them that courage to also step forward."
But Joe Santos says he's anxiously waiting for Guam's governor to sign the bill so it can become law.

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