HAGÅTÑA, Guam — Pope Francis appointed a Vatican official Monday to oversee the Catholic Church on this Pacific island after mounting accusations of sexual abuse leveled against its archbishop.
For the moment, Anthony Apuron, 70, will retain his title of archbishop of Agaña, But Hong Kong-born Archbishop Savio Tai Fai Hon, now second in command of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has been given temporary authority to govern the Guam archdiocese that Apuron has led since 1986.
This may be the first time ever — or at least the first time in recent history — that the Vatican has made such an appointment in a U.S. territory. Over the weekend, the Vatican announced that the pope had signed off on new measures to remove bishops who fail to respond to abuse allegations.
What makes this case different from almost all others is that Guam's archbishop himself is the one accused of sexual misconduct.
Apuron's office said in a statement that he made the request for an apostolic administrator pending investigation of the abuse allegation against him.
• On May 17, Roy T. Quintanilla, 52, who now lives in Honolulu, came forward to accuse Apuron of abusing him when he was an altar boy 40 years ago at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Agat, Guam, and Apuron was a parish priest.
• On May 30, Doris Y. Concepcion, inspired by Quintanilla's coming forward, also said that before her son, Joseph A. Quinata, died 11 years ago, he told her that Apuron molested him when he was an altar boy in Agat, also in the 1970s.
Quintanilla was not the first to accuse the archbishop of molestation, but he was the first come out publicly with his personal account, flying from Hawaii to Guam to have a press conference.
Apuron has denied both accusations. He has not been charged with a crime and no civil lawsuit has been filed against him.
Hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy have been unearthed in the past 25 years but few have involved bishops and archbishops accused of abusing young boys and girls in their pasts. Bishops J. Kendrick Williams of Lexington, Ky., who resigned in 2002; Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla., who resigned in 2002 and J. Keith Symons in Palm Beach, who resigned in 1998, were among the U.S. cases.
Under the new decree published Saturday, the Vatican can investigate a bishop found guilty of serious negligence in tackling “acts that caused serious harm to others,” according to Religion News Service.
The pope specified that such negligence includes failing to oust a suspected abuser. That has not been the case in the past, and that oversight has been one of the most contentious aspects of the church’s response to the crisis.
In such circumstances, a bishop would still have the right to respond and the Vatican could subsequently remove him or ask him to resign.
In May, Francis said the Roman Catholic Church should have a zero tolerance to pedophilia and asserted that canon law has no statute of limitations on tackling sexual abuse. In 2011, Guam abolished its statute of limitations on prosecuting sex crimes against children.
Nearly 6 of every 7 residents of the Archdiocese of Agaña identify as Catholic, 157,000 parishioners, according to information at Catholic-Hierarchy.org. The archdiocese includes Guam, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau.
Deacon Steve Martinez, former coordinator of a Guam church group charged with reviewing sexual-abuse allegations involving clergy, said Wednesday that Apuron purposely kept the Guam archdiocese’s sexual-abuse policy weak to protect himself. On Friday, the archdiocese said it would take action against Martinez in addition to appointing an independent investigator to look into the accusations.
Follow the Pacific Daily News on Twitter: @GuamPDN