Rome (ChurchMilitant.com) - Vatican watchers are scratching their heads after the Holy See delivered a slap on the wrist to an accused predator prelate.
The CDF removed Apuron from his office as archbishop and ordered him not to return to Guam — a mild rebuke amounting to early retirement.
The sentence was far lighter than earlier sentences handed down to other bishops accused of molesting minors. Typically, the Holy See removes elderly clerics convicted of sexual abuse from ministry and sentences them to a spend the remainder of their lives in "penance and prayer" but the no such restrictions were placed on Apuron.
Apuron has said he will appeal the verdict; the penalties against him are suspended pending a final ruling.
Since September 2016, the archdiocese of Agana has been named in 96-sex-abuse lawsuits alleging Apuron and other church leaders in Guam knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it. One priest, an admitted molester, confirmed the leadership's complacency in court testimony.
After lawmakers passed a bill retroactively terminating the statute of limitations for child-sex-abuse cases, dozens of men came forward, alleging that between 1955–1994, as minors, they were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual abuse by archdiocesan priests.
Some cases involve up to 50 defendants. Among them are 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher and a Catholic school janitor.
Apuron, himself, was accused of raping adolescent males in his care, including his 16-year-old nephew. The archbishop denied accusations of raping altar boys in his care; after the allegations against him surfaced, he refused to resign.
In June 2016, Pope Francis stepped in, stripping the archbishop of his pastoral and administrative authority in the lead-up to his CDF trial.
Francis has blasted clerical sex abuse and the Church leadership's "sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power."
But many are troubled by the pontiff's occasional misstatements and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, which seem to run counter to his strong stance.
In 2001, to clean up "the filth" in the Church, Pope Benedict XVI pushed through sweeping reforms of its process for handling priestly sex abuse. Responsibility for prosecuting predator priests was transferred from the Vatican Court to the CDF, sparking a significant jump in the scope and pace of judgments.
But as the Associated Press reports, Francis "has intervened in a handful of cases to lower sentences," aligning himself with "several high-ranking prelates in the Vatican who oppose defrocking convicted molesters and have long lobbied for more lenient sentences against their brother priests."
"This intervention has become so endemic to the system that cases of priestly abuse in Rome are now known to have two sets of distinctions," writes The Week's Michael Brendan Dougherty. "The first is guilty or innocent. The second is 'with cardinal friends' or 'without cardinal friends.'"
Early in Francis' papacy, for example, the case of Fr. Mauro Inzoli scandalized people inside and outside the Church.
Nicknamed "Don Mercedes" owing to his flamboyant, materialistic lifestyle, Inzoli was accused of abusing minors, some, allegedly inside the confessional. According to victim testimony, as Inzoli forced himself upon the adolescent boys, he assured them the sex acts were allowed by Scripture. The CDF found him guilty, and in 2012, he was defrocked by Pope Benedict.