The Archdiocese of Agaña last week adopted a new policy on child protection, following a child sex abuse scandal which has implicated the former archbishop and other clerics. The recently-installed Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña, Michael Byrnes, adopted the children protection policy Oct. 18, along with a safe environment program and a policy for an independent review board.

These policies “will help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese,” Byrnes wrote. “We must now exercise the will, the effort, and the expense to implement completely the provisions set forth. Safe environments for our children must become a reality in our midst.”

Archbishop Byrnes was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña in October 2016 to replace Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who had been relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority in June 2016 after allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors. The Archdiocese of Agaña serves Catholics in Guam, a U.S. island territory in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.

Apuron, who is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, has also been accused of failing to implement strong policies on the handling of clerical sex abuse. He has denied all allegations against him. Guam's lawmakers retroactively eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse in September 2016, and the Agaña archdiocese is now a defendant in 96 lawsuits concerning claims from 1955 to 1994. In addition to Apuron, 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor, and a Boy Scout leader have been accused of misconduct.

Byrnes had adopted the US bishops' conference's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics in February. The new policies were recommended to Byrnes by an independent review board, and are meant to implement fully the broad policy statements of the US bishops' conference norms and charter.

“The reason we felt we needed to develop a new policy, part of it was just the inadequacy of the prior policy ... also when we decided to adopt the charter, it meant more than just a simple sexual abuse policy,” Byrnes said Oct. 24 at a press conference announcing the new policies.

The policies will require background checks and more rigorous prevention training. Developed by Virtus Online, the training courses will be mandatory for an estimated 500 to 800 adults who work with children.