Guam Gov Signs Bill Ending Time Limits in Child Sex Cases
By Steve Limtiaco
September 23, 2016
|Roland Sondia, left, of Agat, Guam, responds to a question during a press conference Sept. 22, 2016. Sondia made a public appeal to Gov. Eddie Calvo to pass Bill 326 that would remove the statute of limitations on civil suits regarding sexual abuse of children.|
Gov. Eddie Calvo signed a bill Friday that allows victims of child sexual abuse to sue their abusers as well as anyone who helped them and the institutions with which they are affiliated.
The bill from Sen. Frank Blas Jr., a Democrat from Barrigada, was introduced after several former Agat altar boys accused Archbishop Anthony Apuron of molesting or raping them in the 1970s. It retroactively lifts the statute of limitations on civil suits, and at least one Apuron accuser has said he plans to sue.
The Archdiocese of Agana opposed the bill and encouraged Calvo to veto it, arguing that lawsuits against the church could cripple it financially and affect its ability to run Catholic schools and provide services. Officials submitted a petition with more than 4,000 signatures opposing the bill.
Roland L. Sondia, one of the former altar boys who have publicly accused the archbishop, said he was overwhelmed when the governor personally called him right after signing the law, around 5 p.m. Chamorro Time on Friday, about 3 a.m. ET.
"I just broke down and cried for myself, my family and the other victims,” Sondia said. “He said he was thinking about me and the other victims. He said it’s all about the victims. He said they did a lot of deliberations, did due diligence, and he said he prayed.”
In a letter accompanying the new public law, 33-187, Calvo said it opens the doors of justice to those who suffered a terrible harm as children.
Calvo said the bill has several legal and technical concerns — including whether it is even possible under the constitution to retroactively lift the statute of limitations.
“Despite these questions, today I will err on the side of the aggrieved,” he said in the letter.
Blas issued a written statement Friday afternoon.
“I want to thank the governor for his action in making this bill a public law. Since the very beginning, the focus of this legislation was always the victims. It gives them a voice and the ability to seek justice for the harm that was done,” Blas said. “I want to thank the victims for having the courage to come forward and share their stories and the church groups that actively pushed for this measure in order to give relief to the victims of child sex abuse.”
After Calvo signed the measure into law, temporary Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai issued a written statement apologizing to those who have been abused by clergy in the archdiocese and announcing the creation of a fund to help victims. In June, the Vatican assigned Hon to run the local archdiocese, pending a church investigation into the abuse allegations against Apuron.
Across the USA, states have been considering expanding or eliminating statutes of limitations on rape and child sex abuse because of high-profile sex-abuse allegations. Guam's new law covers all private institutions including the Roman Catholic Church.