Guam archdiocese receives administrator after bishop accused of abuse

After sex abuse and other allegations were leveled against Guam's archbishop, Pope Francis on Monday appointed a Vatican official to be the local Church's apostolic administrator while an investigation is carried out.

On June 6, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was appointed apostolic administrator “sede plena” of the Archdiocese of Agaña, which serves Catholics in Guam, a U.S. island territory in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.

The appointment was made shortly after Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agaña was accused of sexual abuse dating from the 1970s, and of failing to implement strong policies on the handling of clerical sex abuse.

As apostolic administrator “sede plena,” Archbishop Hon will govern the archdiocese because its ordinary is incapable of doing so. Though Archbishop Apuron remains archbishop, he will not exercise his office while Archbishop Hon remains as apostolic administrator.

In May, allegations surfaced against Archbishop Apuron. The accusations were raised by a former altar boy, who said that he was molested at age 12, when he spent the night at a rectory with then-Father Apuron. The alleged incident took place in the mid-1970s in Agat, a town located almost 13 miles southwest of Hagåtña, Guam's capital, when Archbishop Apuron was a parish priest.

Shortly later, another allegation surfaced, also involving a former altar server who had spent the night at the rectory.

Archbishop Apuron has denied the allegations, with a statement from the Agaña archdiocese calling the latter claim a “malicious and calumnious accusation.”

On May 18, Vincent Pereda, a member of the archdiocese's review board, wrote that regarding Quintanilla's accusation, “I believe credible, reasonable cause does exist … that the archbishop had engaged in sexual misconduct,” the Pacific Daily News reported.

A May 31 statement from the archdiocese claimed that “fierce attacks against the Archbishop exploded three years ago when he removed the administration of the Cathedral-Basilica, the Museum and the Catholic Cemeteries of Guam for reasons of financial mismanagement.”

Deacon Stephen Martinez is the archdiocese's former sexual abuse response coordinator and its former financial officer. He was dismissed from his duties in October 2014.

Deacon Martinez held a June 1 press conference in which he alleged that the Agaña archdiocese's sexual abuse policy has a conflict of interest and needs to be revised, since Archbishop Apuron has himself been accused of sexual abuse.

“The archbishop has purposely kept his sex abuse policies weak in order to protect himself and those around him,” the deacon stated.

Deacon Martinez presented letters he sent to the archbishop in 2014 stating his concerns with the local Church's policy on investigating clerical sex abuse.

A June 3 statement from the archdiocese called Deacon Martinez' statements calumny, and defended the archbishop's handling of allegations of sexual abuse against clerics in recent years.

“To state, as Stephen Martinez did, that the sexual abuse policy of the archdiocese was kept weak purposefully by the Archbishop to protect himself is a calumny of such magnitude that the only avenue, which we are following, is recourse to the civil and canonical legal processes to address these intentional lies,” the archdiocese stated.

“We are working with one of the most prominent U.S. legal firms to address these issues and with an independent investigator to inquire about this allegation and these rumors.”

The statement also charged that Deacon Martinez was removed from his position as financial officer for the archdiocese because of incompetence, and that he is part of a group “conspiring to topple Archbishop Apuron from his service.”

The archdiocese alleged that the accusations against Archbishop Apuron are part of an attack caused by his refusal to sell a seminary – a move which it says would have concealed financial mismanagement of the archdiocesan cathedral and cemetery.

In 2014, a California man had accused Archbishop Apuron of having molested his cousin. However, the cousin did not confirm the accusation, and no charges were filed.

Archbishop Apuron, 52, is a native of Guam. He was ordained a priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in 1972. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Agaña in 1983, its apostolic administrator in 1985, and he has served as archbishop since 1986.

The Pope's decision to appoint Archbishop Hon as apostolic administrator of Agaña shortly follows his release of a motu proprio, “As a loving mother,” providing for the removal of bishops from office in cases where they are negligent in dealing with sex abuse cases.