Letter: Guam’s Catholics will rebuild after abuse case

Pacific Daily News [Hagåtña, Guam]

February 22, 2022

By Tim Rohr

As trial in the archdiocesan abuse case moves forward to determine whether assets of churches and schools should be included in the quest “to find an authentic and thorough resolution” for “real healing,” as one lawyer put it, all involved should be reminded why Guam’s case is different than any other.

In every other U.S. diocese which was similarly sued, the impetus for justice originated with lawyers, legislators or journalists. In Guam, lawyers, legislators and journalists had nothing to do with it.

In Guam, the impetus to rid our church of its decades of demons originated with what we shall call “the regular Catholics,” the Catholics in the pews.

The history of the law now being wielded to sue for real healing is this:

The regular Catholics called for the lifting of the statute of limitations in order to hold the bad guys accountable. A lawmaker later introduced a bill to do that. But the bill did not provide for institutional liability.

At first, the regular Catholics were OK with this (because) the goal was to oust the bad guys and not enrich anyone. However, the Vatican administrator who took over after (former Archbishop Anthony) Apuron ran away mocked the efforts of the regular Catholics, causing them to then pressure the Legislature to amend the bill to include institutional liability.

Still, the bill would have gone nowhere but for the intense pressure brought upon the Legislature at three public hearings during which the initial accusers, with the standing-room only support of the regular Catholics, confronted legislators with their stories, whereupon some lawmakers were seen to openly weep at the horror. The Legislature voted unanimously to pass the bill.

But even then it was not a done deal. A couple of lawyers attempted to stop the bill from being signed into law by convincing archdiocesan operators to promote a petition drive at Sunday Masses calling on then-Gov. Eddie Calvo not to sign the bill into law.

However, by then, the regular Catholics had ramped up the pressure with weekly pickets in front of the cathedral. Every Sunday for 54 weeks, rain or shine, the regular Catholics, mostly elderly and many with walkers and canes, marched for a full hour with signs demanding Apuron’s ouster and justice for the victims.

Calvo signed the bill.

Early on, during village meetings organized by Concerned Catholics of Guam, it was evident that the regular Catholics wanted to clean up their church, were willing to pay the consequences and were prepared to rebuild their churches just as their forefathers had done after World War II. The image of celebrating Mass on the tailgate of an army jeep parked on a war-ravaged landscape was repeatedly invoked as a metaphor for the real faith of Guam’s regular Catholics.

And, if it comes to that, then Guam’s regular Catholics will rebuild their Catholic Church. But in the meanwhile, all involved in this quest for real healing should remember that the legal power they now wield came off the backs of the regular Catholics, the Catholics in the pews, the Catholics whose families built those churches and schools, and whose children were the victims.

Tim Rohr is a resident of Hågat.