Thursday, September 15, 2016

Vatican, archdiocese investigate decades-old sex abuse allegation

Image result for archdiocese of aganaDeacon Leonard Stohr, the Archdiocese of Agana’s sexual abuse response coordinator, said he spoke Tuesday with a man who reported he witnessed the Rev. Antonio Cruz and seminarian Anthony S. Apuron — now the island's archbishop — sexually molest a 10-year-old altar boy during a church rectory sleepover in March 1964.

Yigo resident Ramon Afaisen De Plata, 62, on Sunday told the Pacific Daily News he witnessed the molestation when he was 10 years old, after entering the priest's bedroom to use the restroom. He said his older brother saw the same thing. He gave a statement to other island media Monday, and the Archdiocese issued a written statement Monday evening, saying it will investigate.

“Though Father Cruz is deceased, the issue will still be investigated," Stohr said Tuesday, adding the work will be done by an independent investigator. "There may be other victims or witnesses that we may offer support to at this time. The witnesses could also include Mr. De Plata’s brother. The investigation will try to find out Father Cruz’s date of ordination, his assignments, which churches and villages, his positions whether he’s a parish priest or pastor, his superiors, the altar servers at the time, other parishioners, and going through church records,” Stohr said. Any information will be forwarded to the Vatican, he said.

“We assure Mr. De Plata that his statement will be officially forwarded to Rome as part of the investigation of Archbishop Apuron,” the Rev. Jeff San Nicolas, delegate to the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Agana, said in a statement on Monday night.

Stohr said one of the priorities is to extend support to De Plata for whatever his needs are at this time.

He talked to De Plata Tuesday morning, he said, and this will be followed up by a face-to-face meeting that will also include San Nicolas.

De Plata is the latest former altar boy to accuse Apuron, who has been temporarily replaced by the Vatican, of molestation or rape.

In May and June, three former altar boys publicly accused Apuron of molesting or raping them when he was parish priest in Agat in the 1970s. A mother of a fourth altar boy also said her son, Joseph Quinata, told her before he died 11 years ago that Apuron had molested him. 

In July, Quinata's brother said Apuron raped his brother more than once.

De Plata on Sunday said, “When I was 10 years old, in March 1964, I witnessed Pale' Antonio Cruz and Anthony Apuron molest an altar boy. I was also an altar boy at the time. During the Lenten week, about eight of us were rehearsing for the High Latin Mass services, which were very difficult. … We finished late one night and Pale' Cruz asked us to spend the night. So we did.”

Ramon De Plata said he woke up to use the restroom, which was located inside Cruz’s bedroom. When he walked in, he said Cruz was lying naked on the bed with a boy, and Apuron was kneeling on the floor — all engaged in a sex act.

He said both the altar boy and Cruz are since “difunto,” the Chamorro word for dead.

Only the Vatican can investigate allegations against archbishops like Apuron, who has been placed on leave since early June.

The Vatican sent Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai from Rome on June 6 to temporarily head the Catholic church on Guam.

Stohr said he does not know how long the local investigation will take.

“The investigation starts as soon as possible. We will let the investigation take its course,” he added.

Deacon Steve Martinez, a former church sexual abuse response coordinator, said Tuesday even if a priest accused of sexual abuse is deceased, the Archdiocese of Agana would still need to conduct an investigation since it is ultimately responsible for the actions of their employees and priests.

Martinez said the church also needs to “confront the archbishop to hear his side of the story.”

“A professional investigator can find out quite a bit that an average lay person would not appreciate. One comment can lead to other and new directions,” Martinez said. “They can talk to other priests who were assigned with him or to him. They can look at records to interview employees at the time. They can also talk to other former altar boys.”

Martinez, also a former archdiocese finance officer, said while the allegation against Apuron is handled by Rome, “the church on Guam can ensure Rome is doing everything possible to resolve this issue in a timely and effective manner.”

“For instance, they should be following up with Rome, on behalf of the victims, to see why no one has contacted the victims. Has anyone else in Guam been contacted? They should ensure that a competent investigator has been assigned so no one can claim that the church is just trying to whitewash the issue,” said Martinez.

He added that  the church on Guam can provide all the documentation it has in its files on all the priests who may have knowledge of these matters.

“Churches have amazingly good records, even if they are slow to share with outside parties, there should be no problem to share this with Rome officials,” he said.

Martinez said any investigation involving an alleged crime that is so old is tough but cold case investigations to find clues and truth, he said, should never be written off.

“Even if the perpetrator is deceased. Victims deserve the greatest effort possible to finally determine the truth. And finding all other victims has to be a part of that effort. There could be middle-aged man out there right now on the edge of not being able to cope with this history and we all need to reach out to him with a message of hope,” Martinez added.

The Rev. Jeff San Nicolas, delegate to the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Agana, extended the Catholic Church’s prayers and support to De Plata.

In a statement on Monday night, San Nicolas said the archdiocese is deeply saddened by the allegations of sexual abuse that De Plata made.

“Each time an innocent child is harmed, it is a tragedy of the greatest magnitude. When a child is abused by a priest, who takes advantage of all the trust and responsibility which he is given, the crime of sexual abuse is even more appalling,” San Nicolas said.

On Sunday, De Plata detailed what he says he witnessed in March 1964.

He said he woke up to use the restroom, which was located inside Cruz’s bedroom. When he walked in, he said Cruz was lying naked on the bed with a boy, and Apuron was kneeling on the floor — all engaged in a sex act.

“The altar boy was my age, 10 years old at the time,” said De Plata.

De Plata said Apuron followed him to the restroom and put his arm around his shoulder. 

Then his older brother Tomas, also there for the sleepover, appeared suddenly to ask his brother if he was OK. The brothers went home to their house behind the church.

De Plata said his brother also saw what he saw. “The following morning, he asked if I was OK. He and I never spoke about what I saw again because he did not want to talk about it.”

The Archdiocese of Agana's former sexual abuse response coordinator, Martinez, said another example of going above and beyond a superficial review is to talk to De Plata's brother.

"Someone needs to ask how his brother knew he was at risk. Ramon said his brother didn't want to talk about the event that night, (told his brother) get some sleep and we'll talk tomorrow. But Ramon never had that talk. Why did the brother avoid the discussion? One might suspect that Ramon's brother could be a victim, which is why he was looking after his younger brother. It might also be why Ramon's brother never wanted to talk about it. I'm not saying this is the case, but it is certainly a possibility that should be looked into.

"A good investigator can find a lot from just a little if they know how to ask and what signs to be aware of," Martinez said.

De Plata said that while attending religion classes at the church, he frequently saw Apuron head to Cruz’s upstairs residence.

Apuron, who was 19 years old in 1964, left Guam that year to start theology school, according to Pacific Daily News files.

Cruz, who was assigned as first pastor to the Chalan Pago church after its dedication in 1959, died of heart failure in November 1986. He was 62.
Rev. Jeff San Nicolas, delegate to apostolic administrator Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai, said in the statement that the archdiocese extended prayers to both De Plata and the other altar boy.

"We assure Mr. De Plata that his statement will be officially forwarded to Rome as part of the investigation of Archbishop Apuron," San Nicolas said in the statement. "Additionally, a local investigation of the late Father Antonio Cruz will be initiated."

De Plata, a retired Army sergeant and veteran of Operation Desert Storm, said that he didn’t want any legal troubles when allegations of sexual abuse against Apuron first surfaced in May. He said watching others come forward finally gave him the courage to tell his story. 

Those who he's shared his story with have all been supportive, he said.

“I am coming forward today because not only were altar boys in Agat, Barrigada and Mangilao abused, altar boys in Chalan Pago were also abused by Pale Antonio Cruz and Anthony Apuron,” he said. “I know of others and I pray that they come forward and tell their stories so we can all heal and lift this heavy burden from our souls.”

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