Interim Guam Archbishop: Church should assume any abuse allegation is serious
HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News,July 27) – Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai on Wednesday said he is deeply troubled by the sexual abuse allegations brought against Archbishop Anthony Apuron, and he has retracted past statements issued by Apuron and the Archdiocese of Agana which accused Apuron’s accusers of lying. [restrict]
“Instead, 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,” Hon said during his first press conference since Pope Francis appointed him in June to temporarily oversee the Catholic Church in Guam.
Hon also said he is willing to meet with Apuron’s accusers, including where they live off island, if necessary.
But three former altar boys who accused Apuron of molesting them in Agat in the 1970s said Hon fell short of apologizing to the victims for what they went through and are still going through.
Roy T. Quintanilla, Walter Denton and Roland Sondia, several hours after Hon’s press conference, said they are not dropping the libel and slander lawsuit against Apuron, the Archdiocese of Agana and other unnamed people just because Hon retracted the statements that essentially called the accusers liars.
Sondia, Denton and Quintanilla said it took a libel and slander lawsuit for Hon to retract those statements.
The fourth plaintiff or accuser is Doris Concepcion, who said her son, Joseph Quinata, told her before he died 11 years ago that Apuron abused him when he was an altar boy. Concepcion currently is back in Arizona, where she now lives.
Apuron had called the accusations made by the former altar boys malicious and calumnious, linking them to ongoing criticism of his leadership.
Apuron still holds the title of archbishop of the island’s archdiocese, but Pope Francis put Hon in charge temporarily.
Hon said it should now be very evident that such statements did not and do not represent the opinion of the Archdiocese of Agana on the handling of sexual misconduct allegations against any member of the clergy, nor do they represent the opinion of the archdiocese about those who raised questions about the handling of church finances.
“As I mentioned previously, I take all reports of sexual misconduct by officials of the Church very seriously and I have not, do not, and will not consider a person presenting such reports as malicious or calumnious, or motivated by a desire to attack the church or any other improper purpose,” Hon said.
He said Apuron’s prior statements were not consistent with the gravity in which the Church approaches all allegations of abuse.
“I recant and retract all such statements,” Hon said.
Hon’s recanting and retraction of Apuron’s statements came days after Hon’s name was included as a defendant in the $2 million libel and slander lawsuit filed by the four Apuron accusers.
The Apuron accusers, through their attorney David Lujan, have said the church should hold Hon equally accountable for past statements because the church had not retracted or repudiated any of the statements.
Another lawsuit averted
Hon also specifically recanted and retracted all statements implying or suggesting that blogger and church critic Tim Rohr was part of a conspiracy involving an improper and clandestine real estate transaction, or that he had any improper motives in raising questions about the Archdiocese’s financial matters.
Rohr, when sought for comment, said he accepts Hon’s retraction and will no longer pursue further action against him.
“While it is good that a Catholic prelate of Archbishop Hon’s position has at last publicly retracted those injurious statements issued by the office he now controls, it is sad that it took a lawsuit and the threat of another in order for him to do so,” Rohr said.
Rohr said he now intends to pursue action against the two priests who allegedly caused those libelous statements to be published, “namely Fr. Edivaldo Da Silva Oliveira and Fr. Adrian Cristobal.”
Rohr wrote Hon a letter dated July 19, demanding that he retract injurious statements published by the archdiocese. He said Hon also received a summons from Attorney David Lujan to respond to the $2 million lawsuit filed against Apuron and the Archdiocese on behalf of the four victims “similarly libeled as I was.”
Hon read a statement addressed to Quintanilla, Concepcion, Denton and Sondia regarding the allegations of child abuse against Apuron while he was a parish priest at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Agat in the 1970s.
Toward the end of his remarks, Hon said he wanted to personally meet with Quintanilla, Concepcion, Denton and Sondia.
Denton, Quintanilla and Sondia said they will have to consult with their lawyer, adding that Hon had several opportunities to meet with them since June.
Hon said Pope Francis appointed him as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Agana after learning of the allegations against Apuron.
When asked about the status of the church investigation of Apuron, Hon said only the Pope has the authority to investigate, and said his obligation is to ensure that all of the documentation related to this matter reaches the proper offices of the Holy See.
Hon said the Archdiocese has revised its policy for responding to reports of sexual misconduct by an official of the church. The policy now includes a clause that states the archbishop must recuse himself from the proceedings if he is the one accused.
The Rev. Jeffrey San Nicolas, delegate of the administrator, said the Archdiocese of Agana, himself and Hon “do not know where exactly Archbishop Apuron is.”
Hon also publicly cleared of any wrongdoing both the Rev. Paul Gofigan and Monsignor James Benavente, essentially reversing Apuron’s decisions in 2013 and 2014.
In July 2013, Apuron removed Gofigan as pastor of Santa Barbara Church in Dededo, stating Gofigan failed to terminate the employment of a known sex offender. Gofigan, in January 2014, threatened to file a defamation suit, saying Apuron slandered him.
Hon said Gofigan wrote him a letter, asking to remove the decree of removal.
“Actually there was no decree of removal but there was a letter dated July 16, 2013, addressed to him to reply, but there are several issues there,” Hon said, adding that there was no formal act of disobedience caused by Gofigan.
A copy of a decree of removal for Gofigan, however, was obtained by Pacific Daily News. The decree of removal is dated Nov. 12, 2013.
On July 28, 2014, Apuron announced that Benavente had recently been removed as rector of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica, citing financial problems in the church administration and a multimillion-dollar church debt. He later provided more details, stating there were problems with the Catholic cemetery finances and bookkeeping, and contracts were missing. [/restrict]