HAGÅTÑA, Guam — Now that a Vatican tribunal has convicted Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron and removed him from office, Catholics on Guam say this could be a turning point in healing a church rocked by a clergy sex abuse scandal.
"I feel the healing will start. It will be a slow, slow process but it will happen," Van Morada said Sunday before Mass at Dulce Nombre De Maria Cathedral-Basilica, the mother church on the island.
Morada said regardless of the outcome of Apuron's canonical trial, he and his family pray for Apuron, his accusers, and the people of Guam.
Joey Blas, 40, said the Vatican's decision helps "instill trust in the Catholic community."
"The Vatican did something about it, meaning Apuron won't be able to again do what he did to the people he hurt. That could also prevent others from doing the same thing," said Blas, with his family in tow, going to church.
Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes, right before the 9:30 a.m. Mass ended, read a statement addressing what the Vatican decision means to the Catholic community on Guam.
"It is a monumental marker in our journey toward healing as one Church, one people in God. I pray that all people would embrace this call for healing," he said, reading from a statement his office initially sent to the media on Saturday morning.
Byrnes also read the official news release from the Vatican's Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that found Apuron guilty.
The tribunal, which was composed of five judges, imposed penalties on Apuron including "privation of office and prohibition of residence in the Archdiocese of Agana."
Apuron said in a statement that he is innocent and is looking forward to proving his innocence during the appeals process.
Byrnes said though the sentence is subject to appeal, the Vatican has clearly and concretely determined a finding of guilty regarding "certain of the accusations" made against Apuron.
"Regardless of whether there is an appeal or not, our focus shall remain on penance and reparation," Byrnes said.
The pope in 2016 appointed Byrnes as coadjutor archbishop, who would permanently replace Apuron should Apuron resign, retire or be removed. "Unconditional love is the way to happiness," Byrnes said in his homily on Sunday.
Facing Apuron in court
Walter Denton, who said Apuron raped him when he was a 13-year-old altar boy in 1977 in Agat, said he is hoping that the Vatican will stand its ground and maintain a guilty verdict when Apuron files an appeal.
"I am praying and I am hoping that the verdict that they gave will stand, that they will still find him guilty of the accusations and everything he has done to me and all the altar boys he has hurt," Denton said.
Denton said he hopes that someday, he gets to face Apuron in the court of law.
"I want to face him in court. I want everyone to be there, who could be there. And I want him to face me and also the people of Guam. I just want to ask him why did you do it to me?" Denton said. "I will tell my story again...Everyone in that courtroom will feel what I felt that night when I was raped by him."
While the Vatican canonical trial has concluded except for any appeal, Apuron is still facing a $2 million defamation lawsuit in the Superior Court of Guam and five clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed in federal court. A status hearing for some 160 clergy abuse cases is set for Tuesday.
Denton and four other Apuron accusers including Roy Quintanilla, Roland Sondia, Mark Apuron and the estate of Joseph "Sonny" Quinata are represented by attorney David Lujan, who said the Vatican verdict should strengthen the civil case against the church and Apuron.
Denton said now that the Vatican has convicted Apuron, he and other victims can truly start the healing process. He said the healing is not only for victims, but also for the Catholics on Guam.
"The church is gaining ground regarding the zero tolerance for sexual abuse," island resident Patricia Perry said Sunday.
Perry said people in church leadership positions "should be really given the full penalty of the law because they put the children at risk and we need to put a stop to it."
"I really hope and pray that Archbishop Apuron, if he is guilty, then he should apologize and ask for forgiveness. However, he says he’s not guilty so he needs to forgive. He needs to come out and say, Jesus forgives, and I will forgive whoever is accusing me instead of filing a lawsuit," Perry said. "That's what Lent season is, season of forgiveness."'
Jesse Babauta, 58, said he prays for Apuron's victims.
"God would decide on Apuron. That's not up to man," he said. "But the church will heal; we've done so for thousands of years."
Cesar Sotomayor, 59, said while it's "still a sad story for the church," he said this is part of the healing process.
"Victims will now get their justice. It's a healing process," he said.
Rebuild, move on
Peter Botelho said the Guam Catholic community needs to heal and rebuild.
"That's all we can do, move on. Rebuild and move on. And I feel for the new archbishop that's on board because rebuilding is going to be hard for him but he has to put on a different face, got to put on a new face," Botelho said.
Carmen Leyva said her faith in God and the Catholic Church remains, and she's praying for everyone affected by what's happened in the church.
Still many unknowns
Joelle Casteix, volunteer western regional leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the Vatican conviction of Apuron is a monumental development and Guam can rest assured that Apuron will not be allowed to come back and cause further problems in the Archdiocese of Guam.
"That has been a concern. He will no longer pose a threat to Guam’s children, the church’s finances, or anyone or anything else in the boundaries of the archdiocese. But it’s the second thing—all of the 'unknowns'— that remain the problem," Casteix said.
Casteix, of California, said the public doesn't know where Apuron will live and what Apuron has been found guilty of.
"In fact, we still don’t know what the charges against him were. There is still no transparency. Apuron can still claim innocence for the abuse because the Vatican won’t tell us what he was charged with or what crimes he was convicted of. Survivors have not been vindicated, they have just been 'put off'. They deserve far better. As far as we know, Apuron could have been convicted of financial mismanagement or simple disobedience," Casteix said.
A story in the Vatican's own news website reads that the tribunal found Apuron “guilty of certain of the accusations of sexual abuse of minors and imposed penalties upon him."
"This is not a not a real victory and not a time to be complacent," Casteix said. "There is still a severe lack of transparency. There are too many questions and not enough answers. Apuron’s victims and the people of Guam deserve answers and real accountability. It’s time for the Vatican and Archbishop Byrnes to start providing them.
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