Guam Daily Post
February 21, 2022
By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert
Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes and former Archdiocesan Finance Council President Richard Untalan on Monday took the witness stand in a trial that would determine whether the assets of Catholic parishes and schools could also be used to pay hundreds of survivors of alleged clergy sexual assaults.
Byrnes acknowledged the position of the archdiocese that he, as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agana, only holds the assets of schools and parishes in trust, for the benefit of schools and parishes.
It was the second day of the marathon trial, which starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. daily over the next two weeks.
As archbishop, Byrnes said he signs off on parish and school spending exceeding $25,000.
Creditors’ committee counsel Edwin Caldie said because the archbishop himself described the Catholic Church on Guam as “one body,” then he administers the church for the benefit of the whole archdiocese.
The committee represents mostly clergy sex abuse survivors, led by Leo Tudela, who was also present in court Monday.
Earlier in the day, Caldie asked the parishioner-witnesses whether they would ask the archbishop or the archdiocese to give them back their donations to their parish in the event their parish building closes or is merged with another parish. The consistent answer was “no.”
Archdiocese attorney Geri Diaz asked the witnesses about the island tradition and culture in which families donate properties for the benefit of their own parishes or schools.
Byrnes and Untalan answered questions mostly from Caldie about the archdiocese’s filing of bankruptcy in 2019 and Byrnes’ authority over the assets of parishes, schools and others under the archdiocese.
Byrnes will be called back into the witness stand Tuesday.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood also heard from four other witnesses, including parishioners from Yigo, Toto and Chalan Pago.
Untalan testified on the finance council’s work in 2016 to 2018 in identifying so-called essential and nonessential assets of the whole archdiocese, inclusive of parishes and schools, that could be used to “settle” the claims of survivors of clergy sexual assault.
He said there was a lot of pushback from the parishes and schools at the time, until Byrnes asked “everyone” for their help.
Mediation to try to settle the clergy sex abuse claims did not succeed, leading the archdiocese to file for bankruptcy.
This story will be updated.