Byrnes: Apuron's canonical trial now ongoing

By Haidee V Eugenio
Pacific Daily News
November 28, 2016

A protest was held for the defrocking of Archbishop Anthony Apuron and the renunciation of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary of Guam property by RMS Guam at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagåtña on Sept 18. Protesters have also gathered to support Bill 326-33, which would lift the statute of limitations for sexually abused children.

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Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron’s canonical trial at the Vatican has started, newly-arrived Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes said Monday afternoon.

Apuron, 71, is the highest leader of the Catholic Church on Guam for 30 years.

The Vatican placed Apuron on leave on June 6, a few weeks after former altar boys started publicly accusing Apuron of sexually abusing or raping them when he was the parish priest at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Agat in the 1970s.

“The trial has started. It’s been initiated, I know that much. The argument has been exchanged and now it’s kind of like in the second phase of investigation, examination,” Byrnes said during a news conference Monday afternoon in front of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagåtña.

Byrnes, who arrived on Guam at around 1 a.m. Monday, said the tribunal has been established and the Apuron trial proceeds, with more or less three judges on board.

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai on June 6 to temporarily administer the church on Guam. On Oct. 31, the pope appointed Byrnes as coadjutor archbishop, who has rights to succeed Apuron if Apuron resigns, retires or is removed. Hon is scheduled to move back to Rome on Dec. 1.

Apuron, born and raised on Guam, is one of 84 bishops worldwide who have been accused publicly of sexual wrongdoing, according to, a group tracking public records involving bishops.

Vatican policy dictates that only Rome can investigate bishops who are accused of sexual abuse. Apuron is the first bishop who has served on Guam to undergo a canonical trial.

Only four accused bishops worldwide have so far been laicized, according to the website. Laicization, in the canon law of the Catholic Church, is the removal of a bishop, priest or deacon from the status of being a member of the clergy. The term corresponds closely in meaning to defrocking, which the Concerned Catholics of Guam and the Laity Forward Movement want to happen to Apuron.

Byrnes said he had the opportunity to meet Apuron in person recently in Baltimore, Maryland, where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held its annual fall general assembly, from Nov. 14 to 16.

“He came for a visit to speak with me,” Byrnes said. “It was a very cordial, not real deep conversation, but just kind of exchanging our stories, just kind of getting to know each other.”

Byrnes, 58, said Apuron told him he’s praying for him. Prior to his appointment as coadjutor archbishop for Guam, Byrnes was auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit in Michigan.

As coadjutor archbishop, Byrnes said he expects he will be informed of the results of Apuron’s canonical trial when it’s over.

Canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger, a Minnesota-based expert in church law, has said there haven't been enough trials of bishops to reach any conclusion about what penalty is normal.

“It will be for the judges to determine the penalty warranted, which could be dismissal from the clerical state or removal from office,” Haselberger has said.

Apuron also is facing at least four civil lawsuits on Guam by former altar boys after a local law was passed, lifting the statute of limitations on civil cases related to child sex abuse.

Byrnes said he has read the complaints filed. “I’m aware of those. It’s shocking whenever you read that kind of thing,” he said.

Byrnes said he intends to meet with survivors, victims or those who have filed lawsuits against priests and the archdiocese. But he said there are no firm dates as to when those meetings will occur.



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