From a culture of silence to cover-ups: How Guam ended up with 280 clergy sex abuse claims

By Haidee Eugenio Gilbert
Pacific Daily News
October 27, 2019

Walter Denton says knowing the number of those who have now come forward shows just “how bad” the extent of clergy sex abuse of minors on Guam.
Photo by Haidee V Eugenio,

[with video]

A 9-year-old boy confided in his grandmother on several occasions that the parish priest was sexually abusing him.

The grandmother spanked the boy, identified in court documents only by C.B.D. to protect his privacy. She lectured him that the priest was "God's representative and not capable of such actions."

"Unfortunately, due to priests being held to such a high level of respect and stature, it was unheard of them to be capable of committing immoral behavior such as child sexual abuse," Vincent P. Pereda, a board-certified clinical social worker, said.

The same story is repeated in many clergy sex abuse claims. Pereda said preserving the family's honor became more important than protecting children.

"You certainly didn't want a family to be known as accusing a priest, the spiritual leader of a parish community, of misconduct of any form," he said.

This unquestioned reverence for priests and a "culture of silence" contributed to nearly 280 of Guam's children being raped and molested by priests and others associated with the Catholic Church from the 1950s to as late as 2013.

Widespread cover-up hid the abuse

And there was a widespread and systemic Catholic Church cover-up, making the abuses of children hidden. It was the culture of clericalism, in which priests kept hidden each other's acts so the clergy could maintain its power and influence in society, Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes said.

Priests were shifted from parish to parish, giving some problem priests access to more children. 

Guam's bishops from 1945 to 2016 — Bishop Apollinaris Baumgartner, Archbishop Felixberto Flores and Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron — knew about and covered up sexual abuse by priests, based on abuse claims filed in court.

Father Louis Brouillard, accused in about half of Guam's total clergy sex abuse claims, went unpunished for the longest time except for being told to pray. He was allowed to continue as a priest and a scout master for the Boy Scouts from 1948 to 1981.

Brouillard was kicked out of a seminary in Denver over his close "association" with young boys but was allowed to finish his studies in Minnesota in 1947 and then sent to Guam a year later, according to lawsuits filed. He admitted, in 2016, to abusing Guam boys.

Flores and Apuron, are among at least 35 accused Guam clergy. A Vatican tribunal convicted Apuron in 2018 of sexual abuse of minors and upheld that conviction in 2019, stripping him of his title and banned him from returning to Guam. Apuron was the leader of Guam's Catholic Church for 30 years.

"It was kept secret and quiet as a result of the 'culture of silence' that existed at the time," Pereda said.

Leadership inaction let the abuse continue

"When the bishops were aware but didn't do anything to stop it and punish the sick clergymen, they (continued) to abuse our young children," said Concerned Catholics of Guam President David Sablan.

Byrnes believes the "loss of fear of God" was more to the point in explaining the widespread clergy abuse of children on Guam and elsewhere. 

Walter Denton said the number of abuse cases shows just how bad the problem was. He was a 13-year-old Agat altar boy when he said Apuron raped him in the rectory of the Agat church in 1977.

Denton and other Agat altar boys came forward in May and June 2016, leading to the introduction of a bill that became law that allows victims of child sex abuse to sue their abusers and the institutions with which they are associated, at any time

With the 2016 lifting of the civil statute of limitation for child sexual abuse, Guam's clergy sex abuse claims dramatically jumped and more are still being filed.

Child sex abuse was 'Satan's door'

Catholic issues blogger Tim Rohr said that for about 50 years, "the very people we entrusted through our faith were raping, molesting, pillaging, destroying from underneath."

"It was Satan's door into this culture, right through the heart of the Catholic Church and at the highest levels," Rohr said.

It took decades to hold Guam's powerful priests accountable for their actions, led by the Laity Forward Movement and Concerned Catholics of Guam.

"It would be safe to assume that there are many more victims that have, for whatever reason, chose not to report their victimization," said Pereda, who has more than 30 years of clinical experience as a professional counselor, program manager and clinical administrator.

At least 272 clergy sex abuse claims were filed by the Aug. 15 cutoff to get in on the settlement the Archdiocese of Agana will negotiate with the abuse survivors. Accusers have demanded over $1 billion in total damages. The archdiocese sought bankruptcy protection.

Per capita, Guam has about 171 claims of clergy sex abuse per 100,000 people — well beyond the about 12 clergy sex abuse lawsuits per 100,000 people in Boston, whose clergy sex abuse scandal was portrayed in the movie, "Spotlight." The greater Boston area has a population of more than 4.7 million, compared with Guam's 163,000.

Guam's making changes to address abuse

Child sexual abuse is now given prompt and serious attention, compared to decades ago.

"There is no longer the kind of reluctance on the part of victims to report child sexual abuse as there was in the past," Pereda said.

That's why there's high incidence of child sexual abuses being reported to the Child Protective Services and the Guam Police Department, he said.  

Byrnes, since 2016, instituted archdiocese policies to provide much safer environment for children in parishes and schools,such as mandatory background checks and child sex abuse prevention training for all individuals employed by the archdiocese, including volunteers.

Despite all that's happened in Guam's church, Rohr said he remains a Catholic because his faith isn't in priests.

"You don’t leave Jesus because of Judas."

But Rohr said instead of planning for the next village fiesta, Catholics should re-examine their faith and dig deeper into the true Catholic teachings, or other elements will try to take over the church.


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