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HAGÅTÑA, Guam (ChurchMilitant.com) - As an Aug. 15 filing deadline nears, a flood of sex abuse claims is sweeping across Guam.
At least 223 lawsuits have been filed against the archdiocese of Agaña, with claimants alleging abuse at the hands of 35 Catholic priests, teachers and Boy Scout leaders, including former Abp. Anthony Apuron.
Anticipating at least $45 million in liabilities, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January.
Claims began erupting in 2016 after lawmakers passed a bill retroactively terminating the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. Scores of men came forward, alleging that between 1955 and 1994, as minors, they were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual abuse by archdiocesan priests, including Apuron himself.
In spite of the growing outcry against him, the archbishop refused to resign. Finally, in June 2016, Pope Francis stepped in, stripping Apuron of his pastoral and administrative authority and appointing Auxiliary Bp. Michael J. Byrnes of Detroit as coadjutor archbishop of Guam.
Apuron's suspension, critics note, occurred almost 40 years after rape allegations first began to surface against him. All told, seven men — including the archbishop's nephew — have come forward alleging he sexually assaulted them as minors.
In March, a five-judge panel of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) found the disgraced prelate guilty of sex crimes against children. Apuron appealed the ruling, but in April, the Vatican upheld the panel's pronouncement of guilt.
In spite of the CDF ruling, many victims felt like they were denied justice. Apuron was merely removed from ministry and exiled from Guam, but critics have slammed this as a slap on the wrist. He remains a bishop, they point out, and still receives a monthly Church stipend of $1,500.
Adding to victims' sense of injustice, Apuron continues to deny their claims, insisting his accusers are lying.
On Thursday, the Associated Press (AP) published a report that reveals the depths of depravity inside the Agaña archdiocese, where for decades teenage boys suffered silently at the hands of their priests:
For decades, Apuron oversaw a culture of impunity where abusers went unpunished. Long after it erupted into scandal on the mainland, clergy sexual abuse remained a secret on Guam. On this island where four out of five people are Catholic, the abusers held the power.
Now, thousands of pages of court documents reviewed by The Associated Press, along with extensive interviews, tell a story of systemic abuse dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013. They show a pattern of repeated collusion by predator priests, with abuse that spanned generations and reached all the way to the very top of the church hierarchy.
Like Theodore McCarrick, Apuron capitalized on his position as prelate to shield himself from exposure.
The AP noted that the archbishop "used his power to stymie a lawmaker's efforts to allow victims to sue the church, which could have exposed his past."
What's more, in spite of the devastation the scandal has wrought across Guam, to date, there has been a glaring lack of progress in court:
To this day, no member of the Catholic clergy on Guam has ever been prosecuted for a sex crime, including Apuron. Secret church files that could have helped provide evidence for prosecutions are alleged to have been burned. And unlike dozens of archdioceses on the U.S. mainland, Guam has yet to issue a list of priests whom the church deems credibly accused of sexual assault.
"Despite church law that requires bishops and archbishops to maintain records on sex abuse allegations, the new archbishop, Michael Jude Byrnes, said his predecessor left him nothing," the AP reported Thursday. "Byrnes couldn't explain why, except to say he had heard there was 'a big bonfire' outside the chancery before Apuron left."