As Vatican meets on sex abuse, Pope must defrock Guam's Apuron, groups say

Haidee V Eugenio

HAGATNA, Guam –Two leading U.S. organizations protecting victims and documenting the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic priesthood have called on Pope Francis to sustain the guilty verdict on Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron in a case involving sexual abuse of minors, and to defrock or expel him from the priesthood.

"It is wrong for Pope Francis to leave Guam Catholics twisting in the wind and waiting to discover the fate of Archbishop Apuron, especially since it has been nearly a full year since the archbishop was found guilty of abusing children," said Zach Hiner, executive director for the Missouri-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the world's largest and oldest survivors group for abuse victims.

BishopAccountability.Org, which documents the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis, said Apuron and four other bishops must be defrocked, just like the disgraced former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The pope's much publicized summit staring Thursday brings together the heads of bishops' conferences around the world to discuss the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Feb. 19: The stakes are high for Pope Francis, Catholics worldwide in unprecedented sex abuse summit

Feb. 16: Vatican defrocks ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after finding him guilty of sexual crimes

Bishop Accountability co-President Anne Barrett Doyle made their case for the laicization, or the removal from the clergy, of Apuron of Guam;  Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota; Bishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto of Paraiba, Brazil; Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium; and Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Barrett Doyle said that because of Apuron's appeals process, he technically remains the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Agana.

“There is a preponderance of evidence that he has inflicted incalculable harm,” Barrett Doyle said about Apuron during the news briefing.

Concerned Catholics of Guam, ahead of the summit, addressed a petition to Pope Francis, asking him to sustain the guilty verdict on Apuron so that this chapter in the Guam Catholic Church will come to a complete closure and help the healing process.

Apuron case

The pope placed Apuron on administrative leave in 2016, when former altar boys publicly accused Apuron of sexually abusing or raping them as minors in the 1970s. Apuron's own nephew came out in 2018, saying his uncle raped him when he was already an archbishop, in the 1990s.

In February 2017, a Vatican tribunal led by Cardinal Raymond Burke went to Guam to investigate allegations against Apuron.

About a year later, in March 2018, the Vatican tribunal announced that it found Apuron guilty of "certain accusations" of crimes related to the sexual abuse of minors. Apuron denied the allegations, in statements to the media.

Jan. 15: Guam archdiocese files for bankruptcy to pay off clergy sex abuse claims

Aug. 28: Pope Francis says he'll personally review, speed up appeal of archbishop accused of child sexual abuse

Hiner, of the Survivors Network, said they cannot understand why Pope Francis is choosing to delay his decision on Apuron's appeal, but the Survivors Network hopes that the pope "will choose to listen to his faithful in Guam and uphold Archbishop Apuron's guilty verdict today."

"If he chooses not to take this simple step today, we cannot have any faith that he will do the right thing when it comes to cases of clergy sex abuse and cover-up at his summit this week," Hiner said ahead of the summit.

Besides a guilty verdict in the Vatican canonical case, Apuron also is facing six lawsuits in civil court. Guam has more than 200 clergy sex abuse cases filed in local and federal courts since 2016, when the island lifted the statue of limitations for child sexual abuses.

The Archdiocese of Agana also filed a Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy to help compensate the victims of clergy sex abuse.

Follow Haidee Eugenio on Twitter @haidee_eugenio

Aug. 17: Why the Roman Catholic Church still struggles with sexual abuse scandals

June 14: Guam's archbishop, Anthony Apuron, appeals Vatican verdict on sex-abuse charges

March 22: 'They believed us': Victims of Guam clergy abuse react to Vatican verdict

March 16: Guam archbishop guilty of sexual abuse, exiled from island, Vatican tribunal rules

August 2017: Shattered faith: Nearly 100 sex abuse suits against Catholic priests rock island of Guam

This article originally appeared on Pacific Daily News: As Vatican meets on sex abuse, Pope must defrock Guam's Apuron, groups say