Hon Talks about Apuron, Byrnes, Guam-rome Link

By Haidee V Eugenio
Pacific Daily News
December 3, 2016

in this Nov. 30 file photo, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai speaks during a liturgy prayer held to celebrate the beginning of the episcopal ministry of Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna.

Hon said the January 2015 pastoral visit to Guam by himself, Archbishop Martin Krebs and the Rev. Tadeusz Nowak included checking on the November 2014 allegation by California resident John Toves that Apuron sexually abused Toves’ cousin.

“The pastoral visit was also motivated by that, but not uniquely by that,” Hon said. “After the January 2015 visitation, we analyzed the situation and then we presented the matter to the Holy Father and he decided to look for a coadjutor bishop for him, with the right of succession and with special faculties, taking part in the process of decision-making.”

Hon said he came up with recommendations to help Apuron improve his pastoral governance and unify the church on island.

“Unfortunately, 17 months later when I returned here, very little, almost none, has been done,” Hon said.

Archbishop Anthony Apuron. (Photo: PDN file photo)

Hon served as the Vatican’s direct link to Guam for six months starting in early June, when he was sent to temporarily administer the Catholic church on island while Apuron was placed on leave. During that time, Hon:

reorganized the Guam church leadership in consultation with the archdiocesan priests;

reversed Apuron’s decisions to remove two beloved priests;

replaced the Catholic Cemeteries of Guam board;

revised the archdiocese's sex abuse response policy;

formed ad hoc committees to review and recommend aspects of church institutions and activities;

reinstituted the Archdiocesan Finance Council which Apuron removed en masse after going behind their back in putting a deed of restriction on a Yona seminary property now worth at least $45 million; and

laid the foundation for the archdiocese to take back full control of the Yona property.

Sex allegations

When Hon stepped in, he retracted past statements by Apuron and the Archdiocese of Agana which called Apuron’s accusers liars.

Hon said he is deeply troubled by the sexual abuse allegations brought against Apuron, and that the archdiocese should always assume and believe that the intent of those who make allegations of sexual abuse is to bring to light serious claims of abuse.

“Because of the sex allegations, I learned more that the church needs to find a more visible and tangible way to express concern and compassion toward those who are wounded by the church and unfortunately even by the clergy,” Hon said.

In this May file photo, Roy Taitague Quintanilla, center, in black shirt, speaks at a press conference, alleging that Archbishop Anthony Apuron molested him 40 years ago. Attorney David Lujan, right, and others stand around him outside the Archdiocese of Agana in Hagatna. (Photo: PDN file photo)

Since Guam lifted all civil statutes of limitations for those accused of child sex abuse and the institutions that represent them, 11 lawsuits have been filed for clergy sex abuse, naming Catholic priests and the Archdiocese of Agana as defendants.

Hon said showing compassion and care for those bringing complaints of abuse is first and foremost. He said Apuron could have approached the allegations differently, instead of calling his accusers liars or threatening to sue them. Apuron, he said, could have stepped back and allowed an investigation to move forward.

Within weeks of arriving on Guam, Hon asked Apuron to step down. When Apuron didn't heed the request, Hon asked the Vatican to remove Apuron. The Vatican started preparing for Apuron’s canonical trial at the time.

Hon acknowledges the challenges that the archdiocese faces with the child sex abuse lawsuits, but he said the church continues to reach out to victims of clergy abuse. He said the church respects victims’ wish for confidentiality when they reach out to the church to help them heal and find closure.

The Hong Kong-born Hon, now 66, is the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples based in Rome, which directs and coordinates the work of spreading the gospel as well as missionary cooperation.

Hon’s recommendations

Among Hon’s early 2015 recommendations to Apuron to improve his pastoral governance and unify the church on island were:

Give time to sit down and talk to his own priests at the Archdiocese of Agana.

Involve more people in decision-making for the archdiocese. “I was suggesting, even inviting some sisters or lay people to be there (decision-making body),” Hon said.

Set certain goals, such as when the archdiocese was about to mark the 50th year of its foundation as a diocese in 2015 and when Apuron was about to reach the age of 70 also in 2015.

Avoid favoritism towards one group. (Apuron is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, whose practices and beliefs are in conflict with the majority of Catholics on Guam).

Ensure constant communication with the Holy See, through Archbishop Martin Krebs, the Vatican’s delegate in the Pacific islands.

In August this year, Hon said Apuron also didn't follow multiple instructions by the Holy See as early as 2015 to rescind and annul a deed restriction that gives the Redemptoris Mater Seminary and a theological institute, both controlled by the Neocatechumenal Way, the legal right to use church property indefinitely.

Hon said he followed through with his own recommendations to Apuron and has practiced them since June.

“I had an agenda which I made for others. If that didn’t work, let me try, and then in less than six months, I think the church is more stable,” Hon said, adding that he is leaving with mixed feelings.

On Oct. 31, Pope Francis named a successor for Apuron, Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes, previously auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit in Michigan.

In this Nov. 30 file photo, Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes speaks during a liturgy prayer to celebrate the beginning of his episcopal ministry at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna. (Photo: PDN file photo)

The pope asked Hon to help with the leadership transition on Guam so he continued his daily administration of the archdiocese until Byrnes arrived on island on Nov. 28. Three days later, Hon flew back to Rome.

Why Byrnes?

Hon said the search for Apuron’s successor began around May last year. Among other things, the Vatican was looking for someone who has experience as a bishop.

Byrnes served in archdioceses with diverse cultural populations. His educational background also placed him on top of the list of candidates, Hon said. After earning a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, Byrnes earned a master’s in Divinity with a concentration in the Scripture. Byrnes later studied in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he earned a doctorate of sacred theology in 2003.

Hon spoke about the importance of discipline, spirituality to uplift one’s motivation and working for the common good of others, among other things, when searching for an archbishop.

“And then you find someone who is there and then who says, ‘Yes, I will come,'” Hon said.

Guam is Byrnes’ first long-term assignment outside of Michigan, where he was born and raised. Hon said Byrnes shouldn't be considered an outsider. Byrnes told Guam parishioners during a liturgical prayer and his first public Mass on Nov. 30, “I belong to you. I am one of yours.”

For weeks, Guam had three archbishops serving the archdiocese all at the same time — from Oct. 31 to Nov. 28. Byrnes was already appointed coadjutor archbishop, but Hon was taking care of the daily administration as the pope requested until Byrnes arrives. Apuron retains the title of archbishop, although he’s no longer involved in the administration of the archdiocese.

As coadjutor archbishop, Byrnes has the rights to succeed Apuron should Apuron, now 71, resign, retire or be removed.

Bridging the distance

For the pope to send someone from the Vatican to directly take charge of the church on Guam for five months is historic in itself, bridging the distance between the Holy See and Guam.

Hon said it was also his first assignment as an apostolic administrator sede plena.

When asked whether Hon acting as a “bridge” between the Vatican and Guam before Byrnes’ arrival makes the island special, Hon said, “I would say, it makes Pope Francis more special in a sense that he knows how to reach people. When there’s a very weak pastoral governance, he feels concerned, and he wants a solution.”

Guam now has a special place in Hon's heart, he said. The island was his home from early June to November. He said he has met a lot of good people on Guam and he will miss them. Guam, he said, is a piece of paradise.

In this Aug. 2 file photo, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai is interviewed at the Chancery Office. (Photo: PDN file photo)

‘Thank you’

The Rev. Jeff San Nicolas, delegate general for Byrnes, told parishioners at the packed Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna on Wednesday night that Guam is thankful for Hon, who has helped the Catholic church with the ongoing “transition filled with joy.”

“There’s still much work ahead but one individual who has helped us to get to this place of joy is ... Archbishop Hon, ... the individual who needs to be recognized,” San Nicolas said.

San Nicolas said besides helping the archdiocese, Hon also helped him on a personal level on how to become a better priest and a better person. He presented Hon with a box of island gifts to bring to Rome.

David Sablan, president of the Concerned Catholics of Guam, said the arrival of a coadjutor archbishop and the holding of his first Mass on Wednesday night marked a very joyous day. He said Byrnes has a lot to learn about the culture and the issues affecting the church on Guam, and Sablan said his group is ready and willing to help.

The Concerned Catholics of Guam, along with other individuals in and outside Guam, was a key player in bringing to light Apuron’s questionable leadership and financial decisions, as well as in reaching out to victims of clergy sex abuse, including those who publicly accused Apuron of abusing them decades ago.

“I hope that he gets together with the key individuals in the community who are very strong Catholics who understand clearly what is going on within the church so that he has a good foundation of knowledge in that regard so that he can begin the process of healing, as he would like to do, and begin the process of strengthening people’s faith and also give them a feeling of calmness, that he truly is our shepherd and he will definitely take care of making sure that he saves the souls, rather than destroy them as our former archbishop (Apuron) had done,” Sablan said.









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