Chief judge asks if pope can meet with Guam clergy sex abuse survivors

Pacific Daily News [Hagåtña, Guam]

September 6, 2022

By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

U.S. District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Tuesday ordered the counsel for the Holy See, or the Vatican, to file a written report on whether Pope Francis could meet with all survivors of Guam clergy sexual abuse to help settle hundreds of abuse claims.

The judge gave the Holy See’s counsel up to Sept. 13 to file responses to two specific questions she posted during an Aug. 26 hearing on the Vatican’s motion to dismiss a particular Guam clergy sexual abuse case.

The plaintiff in the case is identified in court documents only as “D.M.” to protect his privacy. In his lawsuit, he seeks to hold the Vatican also responsible for the actions of former Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who allegedly raped and molested him when he was a minor student at Father Dueñas Memorial School in 1994-1995.

But the Vatican, which has hired California-based attorney Jeffrey Lena and other lawyers to represent it in the Guam case, seeks dismissal of the claim over a lack of jurisdiction, insufficient service of process and failure to state a claim for relief.

During the Aug. 26 hearing, the judge asked the Vatican’s counsel two things:

  1. In light of the plaintiff’s earnest attempt to serve the Holy See, if the court finds improper service but permits the plaintiff to attempt service one more time, is the Holy See amenable to accepting service of process through any of its attorneys?
  2. Whether Pope Francis is inclined to meet with all the Guam plaintiffs who alleged abuse at the hands of Church clergy or lay persons to discuss a global settlement.

At the hearing, the Vatican’s counsel stated he couldn’t respond to the inquiries without consulting with the Vatican first, the judge said as she ordered a formal response to her questions.

“Before the court issues its decision on the motion, the court would like to know the Holy See’s responses to the questions,” the judge wrote in her order Tuesday. “The court orders counsel for the Holy See to file a post-hearing response indicating whether counsel has conferred with the Holy See about the two questions and, if so, what is the Holy See’s responses to the court’s questions.”

The Vatican, in prior court filings, claims immunity under U.S. law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which allows foreign states to avoid being sued in court.

D.M. is among more than 270 survivors of Guam clergy sexual assaults. The claims led to the Archdiocese of Agaña’s filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which remains pending in court.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert can be reached at