It started off innocently: a 15-year-old boy helping out at San Miguel, a local church named for Archangel Michael.
There was yardwork and cleaning, followed by invitations to the rectory to eat and watch TV. Soon, there were offers to drink sacramental wine and watch X-rated movies. Then sexual assault.
More than 50 times over three years.
By the parish priest.
Those jarring allegations come from a recent lawsuit claiming assault from 1985 to 1988. It is one of nearly 100 lawsuits that describe rampant child sexual abuse by some of Guam’s most revered men: the Catholic clergy.
An investigation by the USA Today Network’s Pacific Daily News unearthed allegations of decades of assault, manipulation and intimidation of children reared on this remote, predominantly Catholic U.S. territory. Among the accusations: a boy fondled on the way to his grandmother’s burial, and another molested for the first time on his seventh birthday, then raped or assaulted 100 more times.
The children’s steadfast faith in the island’s priests made them vulnerable, the lawsuits say. Accuser William Payne’s parents “had raised him to honor and respect the priest, and told him that he had to do what the priest told him to do,” according to his lawsuit. He had “been instilled with the belief that clergy are never wrong, and that the clergy were like Jesus.”
The lawsuits and other public statements collectively claim that priests preyed on children for nearly four decades.
Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 13 Guam priests and others, including a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor and a Boy Scout leader, are alleged to be sexual predators. Guam’s Archdiocese of Agana is a defendant in 96 lawsuits.
The complaints detail alleged attacks from 1955 through 1994 and claim some religious leaders knew of the exploitation and ignored it. One retired priest, who admitted in an affidavit that he sexually abused 20 or more boys, still receives a monthly stipend from the archdiocese.
The accusations also ensnare the Boy Scouts of America, where that priest also served as a scoutmaster. The scouting group is named as a co-defendant in 52 lawsuits.
While clergy abuse is well-documented elsewhere in the U.S. and in cities around the world, a similar pattern of allegations in Guam has gone largely unnoticed outside this tiny island. The accusations only recently caught the attention of the Vatican.
In June 2016, Pope Francis suspended Apuron, who has since been accused in four lawsuits of sexually abusing four altar boys in the 1970s. The Vatican is now trying him in a secret procedure that could lead to him being dismissed from the clergy, also known as being laicized.
Apuron has denied the abuse charges via statements on video and through written statements issued by the archdiocese. His attorney has filed motions to dismiss lawsuits against him.
Apuron’s Vatican trial is “very, very rare, and the reason it’s rare is because the Vatican or the popes have protected the bishops,” says Dominican priest Tom Doyle, a specialist in canon, or church, law who advocates for abuse victims.
SOURCE: Haidee V Eugenio, Steve Limtiaco, and Dana M Williams
Religion News Service