HAGÅTÑA, Guam — Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes on Monday said Guam's Catholic church is beginning a new journey following a Vatican tribunal's conviction of former Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron.
"We are becoming a better church," Byrnes said at a press conference, three days after the Vatican announced its decision to convict Apuron in a case that includes child sexual abuse accusations.
Byrnes apologized to the former altar boys who publicly accused Apuron of childhood sexual abuse, and to the mother of one who is now deceased.
"I convey my deepest apologies to Mr. Roy Quintanilla, Mr. Walter Denton, Mr. Roland Paul Sondia, and the late Joseph 'Sonny' Quinata for the tremendous damage inflicted upon each of you by now Bishop Apuron and the Archdiocese of Agana," Byrnes said.
He said the victims' families have suffered as well.
"I apologize to them too, most certainly to Doris Concepcion, who stepped forward courageously to speak and lobby on behalf of her son, Sonny," Byrnes said. "I issue this public apology on behalf of the entire Archdiocese of Agana.
"We’ve closed a significant chapter in the Archdiocese of Agana, so we begin a new one. It’s a new journey, a new opportunity for the Catholic Church here on Guam. You might even say we’re entering into a post-Apuron era," Byrnes said at the news briefing.
John Michael "Champ" Quinata, who testified at the Legislature in July 2016 , stating his now deceased brother Joseph "Sonny" Quinata was raped more than once by Apuron, on Monday said he's thankful that the Vatican convicted Apuron.
He said this is justice for his brother, whom he said was raped by Apuron when his brother was 9 years old in Agat in the late 1970s.
"I'm sure that if my brother (was) still alive today, he'd also be happy that Apuron (was) found guilty," he said. "Truth always comes out in the end."
In a previous statement, Byrnes also offered prayers and thanks to Mark Apuron, for his brave decision to come forward regarding his uncle. Mark Apuron accused his uncle of raping him at a chancery bathroom in the early 1990s when he was a teen.
There are no details from the Vatican about the specific charges Apuron was found guilty of, the charges that were dismissed, or how long the appeals process would last, Byrnes said. The Vatican said only that Apuron was found "guilty of certain of the accusations."
Apuron is now being addressed as "bishop," because his removal from office includes the removal of his title of archbishop, but he remains a bishop by ordination, Byrnes said.
"Removal from office or privation, they say, is a serious penalty in the canon law but he would still have the faculty of acting as a priest or bishop," Byrnes said.
The Vatican's Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was composed of five judges, found Apuron guilty of charges and imposed penalties on him including "privation of office and prohibition of residence in the Archdiocese of Agana."
Byrnes said to his knowledge, this is the first time a bishop has been removed as a result of this new canonical trial process.
Pope Francis appointed Byrnes in October 2016 as coadjutor archbishop, who has rights to succeed Apuron should Apuron retire, resign or be removed.
Penance and reparation
Byrnes said he will also pray for Apuron as he does for Apuron's victims.
"With humility, I ask the faithful to also assist him [Bishop Apuron] in prayer and penance, that he may find grace in repentance and mercy for his soul," Byrnes said.
Apuron, who served as Guam's archbishop since 1986, said in a statement that he is innocent and is looking forward to proving his innocence during the appeals process.
Byrnes said whether there is an appeal or not, the focus shall remain on penance and reparation.
In June 2017, Byrnes declared that the church on Guam commence a Year of Reparation and the Holy See's decisions crystallizes the reason for this period of penance, prayer and almsgiving.
"I called then and still call upon all Catholics on Guam to intensify their prayers and with great humility to offer sacrifice for the grave harm and sins which we have experienced or have enabled in our church," Byrnes said at the news briefing.
Byrnes said in many ways, this is new, historic, unprecedented ground upon which the Archdiocese of Agana stands.
Byrnes said Hope and Healing Guam, a group independent of the church that provides professional counseling to clergy sex abuse victims, will continue to exist.
Byrnes said the church will continue to work with survivors of clergy abuse and their lawyers to settle all cases fairly and amicably.
He also cited the archdiocese's revision of policies on sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, as well as mandatory training strengthening abuse prevention and awareness.
The church, he said, will update the community on any further word it might receive from the Vatican.