Coadjutor Archbishop Byrnes Hopes to Help, Heal

By Haidee V Eugenio
Pacific Daily News
November 5, 2016

[with video]

Monsignor Michael Jude Byrnes

When newly appointed Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes arrives on Guam Nov. 28, he'll bring with him hopes of healing the island’s large Catholic church — fractured by multiple priest sex abuse allegations, a multimillion-dollar property dispute and disagreements between different factions of the church over how to worship.

“Especially in times of difficulty or times of challenges, it’s important to go back to the foundation of our faith, which is Jesus,” said Byrnes, 58, in a phone interview from Detroit, where he was born, raised and served as priest and bishop until his appointment to lead the Catholic church on Guam.

Pope Francis last Monday appointed Byrnes as coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agana, which gives Byrnes the right to succeed Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron if Apuron, 71, resigns, retires or is removed. Under church law, bishops are required to resign at 75.

Byrnes’ pending arrival on Guam comes at a time when Apuron faces a canonical trial in Rome over allegations that he sexually abused and raped altar boys in the 1970s, when he was parish priest in Agat. Apuron has denied all allegations of sex abuse, and any criminal conduct that may have occurred is long past the criminal statute of limitations.

On Guam, four former altar boys on Nov. 1 filed the first batch of many expected civil suits against the Archdiocese of Agana, Apuron and former island priest Louis Brouillard over sex abuse allegations in the 1950s and 1970s. The lawsuits were filed in the wake of Guam’s passage of a milestone law, lifting the statute of limitations for child sex abuse civil cases, regardless of how far back the abuse happened.

The church had expressed concerns the new law could result in financially crippling court judgments and affect its work here.

Protecting children

Byrnes said he was involved in the actual removal of a priest from office over sex abuse allegations in Detroit. Byrnes has worked with a canon lawyer, among others, who has helped him navigate canon and civil legalities in addressing sex abuse allegations involving the church. He said the U.S. Conference of Bishops also has protocols to better protect children.

“I would hope that we will be able to strengthen all our parishes' ability .. .the kind of sensitivity and awareness of protecting God’s children,” he said.

Byrnes said the Guam church’s victim response coordination team is “a very good first step.”

Regardless of what happens in the Apuron trial, Byrnes said the initial assumption is that he, Byrnes, will still hold the title coadjutor archbishop.

“It’s all up to the disposition of the Holy Father, of course. But the title of coadjutor bishop assumes that once he (Apuron) retires or resigns, I would be the archbishop,” he said.

Local issues

Byrnes has been in communication with Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai, sent by the Vatican in June to temporarily oversee the church on Guam when Apuron was relieved of his administrative powers. Hon is staying on to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

Among the issues they have discussed is the ownership and control of a $40 million to $75 million Yona property housing the Redemptoris Mater Seminary and a theological institute under the control of the Neocatechumenal Way, a group whose practices do not sit well with a number of Catholics on Guam.

“As far as the Neocatechumenal Way, I am aware of them,” Byrnes said. “I met some of them, and my thought there is that we are all Catholics, we worship the same Jesus, and we might do it a little bit different in certain cases. But, you know, my point there would be to say that’s why I need to investigate myself and come to know the people involved.”

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David Sablan, president of the Concerned Catholics of Guam, said the Neocatechumenal Way’s influence and practices will be among the concerns the group will raise if and when it is given the opportunity to have audience with the archbishop-designate.

“My hope for that is we will be able to come together on the island so that we will come to some understanding of who we are and be able to appreciate the gifts we are getting and at the same time have a common vision of what is best for the archdiocese,” Byrnes said.

Byrnes has been working on new evangelization, which he said is meant to be appropriate to every environment. What new evangelization means in Detroit will probably mean something different on Guam, he said.

“But, at the same time, it’s the same Jesus and so how we lift Him up, how we proclaim Him, will differ, according to our culture, our situation and so I want to be sensitive to that and see what the New Evangelization means in the island of Guam,” he added.

Detroit to Guam

Guam is Byrnes’ first assignment outside of Michigan, although he did brief missionary work in Africa and the Philippines, among other foreign countries.

Detroit and Guam may have extreme weather and temperature differences, but Byrnes said he has come to learn that both communities have a strong attachment to their parishes.

Byrnes has a doctorate in sacred theology in Rome and a master’s degree in divinity with a concentration in the Scripture, along with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, when he initially thought he wanted to be a doctor.

He was born on Aug. 23, 1958 in Detroit. He was ordained priest in 1996 and appointed auxiliary bishop of Detroit and titular bishop of Eguga in 2011.

Over 20 years, he served as a campus minister, associate pastor, adjunct faculty member at seminaries and vice rector, along with serving on a presbyteral council and assisted in pastoral oversight of Detroit’s northeast region as a bishop.

He said he’s also interested in the examination and discussion of formation of priests and seminary life, given his background and experience.

‘Serving Jesus’

Byrnes, quoting an Irish spiritual writer, said the great task of a priest is to “give Jesus to the world” and he said he has taken that to heart as a priest and as a bishop.

“I bring an open heart, ear that’s ready to listen. But I also know how to make decisions, and I know how to work together with other people.”

Byrnes is also very clear on one thing: “I am not the Messiah," he said. "I am not the savior, Jesus is. And by serving people, my brothers and sisters in Guam, I am serving Jesus. I’m here to lead, to shepherd, to care, to bring the Sacrament, to begin healing.”

Byrnes is aware of comments that he’s an “outsider” going into Guam, but he said he comes into the picture without taking any sides. The island's most recent church leaders — Archbishop Felixberto Flores, and Apuron, are from Guam;the island has had a local archbishop for 45 years.

The Illinois-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, the world’s largest and oldest network of clergy abuse survivors, has apprehensions about the selection of someone totally removed from the current situation to be Apuron’s likely successor.

Joelle Casteix, SNAP's western regional director, however, said this also means the archbishop’s office can have a “fresh start,” with less of a chance of cronyism and/or loyalty to Apuron and his past actions.

Life-changing call

Byrnes said he received a phone call from Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Christophe Pierre on Oct. 18.

Byrnes said he asked himself “Why me?" when told about the Guam assignment. While he said Pierre didn’t go into the details, he was able to gauge it was partly because he was more available than other bishops.

Byrnes is currently leading key efforts in the Archdiocese of Detroit related to evangelization. These efforts include the “Unleash the Gospel” initiative and an archdiocesan synod, taking place Nov. 18-20.

“The synod is about changing the culture of the archdiocese in the way we minister so that we become more missionary in outlook. Not so much foreign missionary but local missionary. ... (On Guam), it’s like 85 percent Catholic. But here in Detroit, it’s not so Catholic,” he said.

He now has a plane ticket to Guam, due to arrive in the early morning hours of Nov. 28.

Byrnes will stay here for a few weeks then leave for a few weeks for Detroit.

“I have plenty of time to get the lay of the land,” he said. “I think it’s very difficult, just from reading on the internet to say, ‘Well this is what I need to do right away,’ so it’s going to take a little time.”

He plans to comes back to Guam in mid- to-late January for a more permanent stay. While he may not see himself running as much as he used to because of surgery — his biography states he enjoys triathlons and marathons — he's looking forward to swimming and bicycling on Guam during his down time.

"I just like to be outside," he said.









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