Friday, February 17, 2017

Vatican investigators to visit, Guam beefs up child protection

Vatican investigators will be on Guam soon as part of Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron’s ongoing canonical trial, Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes said at a news briefing Friday, during which he announced tougher church policies to protect children from clergy sexual abuse.

Apuron's trial at the Vatican started after several former altar boys accused him of molesting or raping them in the 1970s, when he was a parish priest in Agat.

Byrnes, who will replace Apuron if he retires, resigns or is removed, announced the Archdiocese of Agana’s voluntary adherence to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ revised “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

Byrnes said there will be: required automatic reporting to civil authorities of any allegation of clergy sex abuse involving minors; suspension of the clergy if the accusation is deemed credible and while the investigation is still ongoing; legal background checks, from priests to church volunteers, working with children; and, permanent removal from ministry if the sexual abuse allegations are substantiated.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Byrnes said, adding that the USCCB’s charter provisions are recognized as some of the best practices in the world for protecting children.

Byrnes said the archdiocese follows a “zero tolerance” policy. As an example, a clergy will be permanently removed from public ministry if a sex abuse allegation against him is substantiated by an independent review board, among other things.

An independent review board will be re-established as the main body to, among other things, determine whether an investigation moves forward or not, and whether the accused clergy will be suspended while the probe is still ongoing. These decisions used to rest solely with Apuron as archbishop, even if the allegation was against him.

Besides the voluntary adoption of the charter on protection of minors, the archdiocese has also started conducting workshops on the protection of children, for faculty and staff at Catholic schools and soon, the parishes.



"The provisions of this charter is a roadmap to winning back that trust. Again it will take a lot of time," Byrnes said.

Pope Francis placed Apuron, Guam's archbishop for more than 30 years, on leave last June following abuse allegations.

Byrnes confirmed Vatican investigators will be coming to Guam as part of the investigation into Apuron. Because of a Vatican request, Byrnes couldn’t say anything more about the visit.

“They will be here,” he said. “That’s as far as I can go.”
David Sablan, president of Concerned Catholics of Guam, said they are elated that Vatican officials will be stepping foot on Guam to personally investigate the allegations against Apuron, talk to the former altar boys who publicly accused Apuron of sexually abusing them, and gather as much information about Apuron’s activities as archbishop.

Sablan reiterated that the group hopes there will be justice for Apuron’s victims, and the victims of other clergy. Concerned Catholics and the Laity Forward Movement continue to push for Apuron to be removed as archbishop and be defrocked.

At least 16 former altar boys alleging sexual abuse have so far filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court of Guam against priests and the Archdiocese of Agana.

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