|Photo Credits: The Catholic Sun|
Apuron, a 72-years old archbishop who led the island's diocese since 1986, strongly denied the charges and said he was a victim of a "calumny" campaign but the verdict now says otherwise. "While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict," said a statement from Apuron distributed by his Guam attorney, "God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process."
Pope Francis named a temporary administrator for Guam in 2016 after Apuron was accused by former altar boys of sexually abusing them when he was a priest. After that dozens of cases of child sexual abuse involving other priests on the island have come to light and the tiny island in the Pacific has been rocked by mounting allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church there. The most recent charge emerged in January 2018, when Apuron’s own nephew accused the cleric of raping him in the chancery bathroom in or around 1989 or 1990 — when Apuron was already an archbishop. The archbishop was not criminally charged by civil authorities in Guam because the statute of limitations has expired.
In the past, when an elderly priest was convicted by the Vatican of sexual abuse they were often removed from ministry and sentenced to a lifetime of "penance and prayer.” But several high-ranking members of the Vatican clergy have long lobbied for more lenient sentences. In Apuron's case no restrictions on his ministry as a priest were announced and he greeted Pope Francis at the pope's February 7 general audience. Apuron is one of the highest-ranking churchmen to be convicted by a Vatican tribunal, and his rank as archbishop may have played a role in his sentence. Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at Catholic University of America in Washington, noted that Apuron would still remain a bishop, theologically speaking, because he was not defrocked by the verdict.
Meanwhile, the attorney for the victims said he was overjoyed with the fact that Apuron was found guilty. "We're ecstatic. It's a justified verdict," said David Lujan. Archbishop Michael Byrnes issued a statement also praising the decision. "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," said Byrnes, a former auxiliary bishop of Detroit who is primed to replace Apuron in the diocese if the conviction holds.
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