The sexual abuse of minors is "a deep and sorrowful shame," Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes has said after Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron's conviction in a church court, adding that the Church on Guam must "ensure that the horrible harm inflicted to the innocent is never repeated."
"Our focus shall remain on making penance and reparation in our Church on Guam, attending to justice for the numerous victims of clergy sexual abuse on Guam and continuing our mission to proclaim the love of God to the people of Guam and the Marianas," Byrnes, the new Archbishop of Agana said April 5, according to the Guam-based news site the Pacific Daily News.
Byrnes said the Church doesn't rejoice when its members "plummet from grace and are found guilty of grave wrong," such as cases of "the grievous sin of child abuse."
The Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in March 2018 found Archbishop Apuron, 73, guilty of several abuse-related charges. He immediately appealed the decision. The Vatican court upheld the original decision Feb. 7, and the final sentencing was announced April 4 by the CDF.
As punishment, Apuron was deprived of his office as Archbishop of Agana; forbidden from using its insignia including the bishop's miter and ring; and banned from living within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese.
He was not removed from ministry and remains a priest under church law.
Apuron has denied the charges. He said he was "deeply saddened" when the Pope confirmed the church court's ruling.
"I believe that the facts and evidence presented demonstrated my total innocence," he said.
Archbishop Byrnes offered "deepest apologies" to the victims of Apuron, whom he listed by name. The victims were altar boys. They included the former archbishop's nephew and a former seminarian. They said the crimes happened while Apuron was a parish priest.
"I am truly sorry for the betrayal and severe anguish that you suffered and continue to suffer," Byrnes said.
Walter Denton, who accused Apuron of raping him at the age of 13, thanked Byrnes for "all his support."
"He has made the Catholic Church a better place for the people of Guam and especially for our beautiful children who are altar servers," he said, the Pacific Daily News reports.
Roland Paul Sondia, who was also abused in 1977, voiced hope that Byrnes "would do his best to try to make the Church whole again, and that's what we want."
Byrnes had been serving as coadjutor Archbishop of Agana and became full Archbishop upon Apuron's removal.
Speaking to CNA last year, a source close to the Apuron case noted a contradiction between the penalty and the sentence of sexual abuse against minors – a grave offense which usually carries the penalty of removal from the clerical state.
On Thursday Apuron called the sentence, which prevents him from living in Guam, a penalty "analogous to a death sentence," adding: "I lose my homeland, my family, my church, my people, even my language, and I remain alone in complete humiliation, old and in failing health."
He professed his obedience to the Pope and said he submits to his judgment and thanked him for "allowing me to continue serving as a priest and archbishop without insignia."
The former archbishop said the pontifical secret prevents him from "litigating my good name in public," but claimed that "many individuals" have come forward privately and publicly in his defense "despite threats and the climate of fear in my beloved home of Guam."
He blamed a climate of fear and publicity in the local media for hampering the court's work. This climate "testifies to the presence of a pressure group that plotted to destroy me, and which has made itself clearly known even to authorities in Rome," he said.
Apuron claimed that some people have told him they were asked to make false allegations against him in return for money.
He offered his suffering for the Pope, for his accusers, and for "those who have plotted for my removal."
The archdiocese is working to settle civil lawsuits for the sex abuse claims. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. At the time, there were lawsuits seeking about $115 million in legal claims pending against the archdiocese.
In 2016, the territorial legislature lifted the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors. Since then, nearly two dozen clergy in Guam have been named as defendants in over 200 sex abuse cases, Pacific Daily News reports.
Byrnes has implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that he said will help begin a culture change in the archdiocese.