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    Wednesday, October 23, 2019-2:08:50A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Archbishop warns of Guam church shutdown; seeks removal of Apuron

HAGÅTÑA — The passage of a bill that would lift the statute of limitation for sex-abuse cases, if signed into law, would open the floodgates for lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Agana and drive the Guam church into financial bankruptcy, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai said Sunday.

“In other states where similar laws were enacted, the results have been school closures and cessation of vital services,” the apostolic administrator said in a message addressed to the faithful and read at Sunday Mass.

Hon is now back in Rome to ask Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron as head of the Archdiocese, citing the “gravely serious allegations” that the church will continue to deal with during a canonical trial at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Savio Hon Tai FaiSavio Hon Tai Fai

The Archdiocese is facing mounting allegations of sex abuse against Apuron, who is accused of molesting altar boys when he was a priest at the Mount Carmel Parish in Agat in the 1970s. At least four former altar boys, the mother of a deceased altar boy and a third-party witness have come out with claims against Apuron, revealing secrets kept for almost five decades.

“On behalf of the church, I want to apologize personally to the survivors of sexual abuse everywhere who have suffered so much at the hands of clergy,” Hon 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.”

Guam is a predominantly Catholic community, and rumors about sex in the pulpit are nothing new, but in earlier years they were just passed around in guilty whispers, if not muffled by the church’s policy of simply transferring accused priests to other parishes.

In recent years, however, activism against church abuses has been emerging in the mainstream, triggering open discussions in a manner as rabid as politics.

Last week, the Guam Legislature unanimously passed Bill 326-33 that would allow retroactive sex-abuse cases from decades ago to be brought to court.

“We know that time restrictions have been a particularly pressing problem in light of the delicate nature of child-sex crimes as 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,” said Sen. Frank Blas, the bill’s author. “As the national trend moves toward loosening past restrictions and statutes of limitations, we are now doing the same with the passage of Bill 326-33.”

Hon is seeking to discourage Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo from signing the bill into law, noting its “damaging unintended consequences.”

The archbishop warned that retroactive lawsuits would jeopardize the church mission on Guam.

“In permitting lawsuits to be revived from decades ago, the Archdiocese will be exposed to unlimited financial liability,” Hon said.

He said bankruptcy will result in forced sale of church property that currently houses Catholic schools and social services, hence a “devastating effect on education and charitable work.”

Hon said the possible church shutdown on Guam would affect “good lay people, members of religious orders and devoted clergy who have never done anything wrong.”

Roy Taitague Quintanilla, 52, was the first to publicly emerge since local advocates launched the “Silent No More” campaign in early May. Quintanilla accused Apuron of molesting him when he was a 12-year-old altar server at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in the village of Agat.

Walter Denton, Roland Sondia and Doris Concepcion — for her late son, Joseph “Sonny” Quinata — followed suit.

When the bill was first introduced at the Legislature earlier this year, a group called Concerned Catholics of Guam ran a full-page ad in local print media, urging victims to come forward to sign up for a possible class action. The group is a local arm of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or, a national support group for sex-abuse victims. Concerned Catholics of Guam organizers said the newspaper ad has motivated a number of victims to come out.

The ad solicited victims of incidents that occurred during specific dates from 1974 to 1984.

Last week, former altar boy Ramon Afaisen De Plata, 62, made a public allegation against Apuron, claiming that in March 1964 he witnessed Apuron — a seminarian at the time — engaging in sexual activity with a 10-year-old altar boy.