Vatican official set to visit Guam

By Gaynor Dumat-Ol Daleno
Pacific Sunday News
December 21, 2014


A high-level Vatican official is visiting Guam's Catholic community next month, but whether the visit will be friendly, or investigatory, is in dispute.

"The Archdiocese of Agana is happy to welcome the pastoral visit of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai," the archdiocese stated Friday, in part, in a written statement to the media.

Hon is the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Vatican office to whom some of Guam's Catholics sent letters over the past several months, seeking an investigation of the various controversies in the local archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Agana emphasized, by underlining in Friday's media statement, that Hon's Guam trip is a "pastoral visit."

Hon's visit, according to the archdiocese, comes "in the wake of Archbishop Anthony Apuron's successful visit with Pope Francis last month in Rome."

In Rome, the pope offered his "encouragement and fraternal blessings to the people of Guam," according to the local archdiocese.

"The purpose of this pastoral visit is to foster reconciliation and mutual understanding in the archdiocese," according to the archdiocesan statement, signed by Father Adrian Cristobal.

More than a week ago, certain members of different parishes on Guam formed a nonprofit group called Concerned Catholics of Guam Inc., and announced the group plans to investigate the management of the local church, its financial books, and the archdiocese's handling of a sexual molestation allegation against Apuron.

Apuron has called the allegation a "horrible calumny," but declined to respond further to the allegation on the advice of his attorney because he's planning a defamation lawsuit to defend the church.

The group's president, Greg Perez, made a statement on Dec. 9 on why Concerned Catholics was formed. "A few of us would meet occasionally to discuss these stories about the archbishop, priests who have been allegedly blamed for mismanagement of funds or alleged disobedience and then removed from their parishes, the lack of transparency with the finances of the archdiocese, neglect of precious artifacts in the archdiocesan museum, among other issues," Perez said.

Tim Rohr, a Guam resident who writes a blog on Catholic issues, called Jungle Watch, believes the nature of the Vatican official's visit is investigatory. "The people who are coming -- the nature of their office is investigation," Rohr said.

Some of Guam's Catholics have publicly voiced concern and sent letters to the Vatican about some of Apuron's decisions, including the firing of Monsignor James Benavente after being rector of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica for two decades. The archdiocesan leadership also shut down the Cathedral-Basilica museum, which is a project led by Benavente, before the centuries-old artifacts and relics of Guam's Catholic faith could be viewed by the public. The archdiocese took out a loan to develop the museum, and also received numerous donations of labor and materials to build it.

A Guam native who lives in California, John Toves, recently accused Apuron publicly of sexual molestation. Toves has stated that a relative of his was allegedly molested by Apuron, who was a priest during the alleged molestation some 30 years ago. The alleged victim hasn't come forward.

The alleged abuse occurred at a high school seminary on Guam where both Toves and his relative were co-seminarians and altar boys, Toves has said. Toves went to the archdiocese recently to try to meet with Apuron, in the presence of local media.

Apuron has declined to see Toves.

Hon hasn't shied from commenting on controversial issues elsewhere.

Catholic News Service reported that, two years ago, Hon called on the government in Beijing to release nine arrested Catholic bishops and priests, saying their continued detention "damages China's international image."

In 2011, Hon said Pakistan needs to show "respect for freedom of religion and of conscience, which is the hallmark of justice and peace," according to the Vatican news network online,

Hon will be accompanied to Guam by Father Tadeusz Nowak and Archbishop Martin Krebs, the Vatican's delegate to the Pacific islands. Their visit will occur Jan. 4 to 10, 2015, according to the archdiocese.



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