HAGATNA, Guam: Guam’s new Catholic archbishop acknowledged Monday that “shocking” child sex allegations had damaged the Church’s standing in the Pacific territory, saying he wanted to promote healing.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes arrived in Guam early Monday and immediately set about meeting clerics to outline his plans in the wake of the scandal that has rocked the deeply religious island.
Byrnes’ predecessor, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, stands accused of molesting altar boys in the 1970s and is facing a canonical trial in Rome.
Byrnes said he understood there were strong feelings among Guam’s faithful towards Apuron, who has denied any wrongdoing.
“That’s understandable when something as shocking as those type of allegations come out,” he told reporters.
“One of the things the Holy Father (Pope Francis) invited me to focus on is healing.”
Byrnes, from Detroit, said his job was to act as “a bridge, to reunite and solidify the unity of the Catholic community.”
He is technically a “coadjutor archbishop”, meaning he serves alongside Apuron, although he said he would remain in sole charge as long as the Pope wanted him in Guam.
The allegations from at least three former altar boys emerged earlier this year and date back to the 1970s, when Apuron was a parish priest.
A separate set of accusations have been leveled against a former priest Louis Brouillard, who was a cleric in Guam in the 1950s.
The Catholic church is facing multiple lawsuits from victims seeking unspecified damages after the government in September lifted the statute of limitations relating to sex abuse cases, allowing them to take their cases to court.
At the time, senior Catholic officials argued against the move, saying it could bankrupt the church.
Byrnes said he wanted the church to emerge from the crisis and restore Guam’s status as “a jewel of faith in the Pacific.”
“Guam has been Catholic for a long time and right now the radiance of the jewel of faith has been covered a little bit by the controversies,” he said.
“So let’s polish it up and let it shine.” AFP