On Friday, the Archdiocese of Agana acknowledged that Guam's mother Catholic church, the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica, stands on the brink of financial collapse.
Over the past two years, the Cathedral-Basilica had taken on a $1.9 million debt, and the debt is getting tougher to carry, along with paying the bills to keep the church running. Collections from churchgoers have shrunk to less than half of what they once were, from about $10,000 a week to $4,000 a week on average, the Archdiocesan Finance Council said in a press conference on Friday. A receivership has been named to manage the church's finances.
The local Catholic Church's turmoil first became public almost two years ago with a demand from Concerned Catholics of Guam for accountability, initially on archdiocesan finances and assets, when Archbishop Anthony Apuron ruled the archdiocese.
Sometime late last year, the church's struggle pivoted to an even more public issue: Former altar boys came forward with accusations they were abused by certain Guam priests. And several of them pointed to Apuron as their alleged abuser, decades ago, when the fallen archbishop was a parish priest. As of last week, almost three dozen former altar boys have sued the archdiocese, alleging sex abuse.
The Catholic Church, the largest religious organization on the island, is in crisis.
And the very same people who vocally called for churchgoers to hold back on their financial contributions to the church, in protest against Apuron, could be the very same people who can say to the church, "We've got your back."
Churchgoers spoke out against Apuron's leadership through the collections box.
Now with the church on the verge of collapsing under the weight of heavy financial obligations, and with potential liabilities from sex-abuse lawsuits exceeding all of the archdiocese's total assets, it's time for those who held back on their support of the local church to reassess.
If they wait for the Vatican trial's outcome, and for Apuron to be officially removed of his title as an official of the church, their support might be too late.
Their resumption of support to the local church does not condone at all what Apuron is accused of having done.
Let Vatican justice take its course, and in the meantime, the Catholic faithful need to help, however and in whatever way they can. The archdiocese's ability to withstand its various challenges does not only affect those who practice Catholicism on the island.
Thousands of island school children get their education in various Catholic schools. The island's homeless, and families who don't have anything to eat, get help at Kamalen Karidat, which provides meals. The island's prisoners get some spiritual guidance through priest visits.
Perhaps one of the biggest gestures to help the local Catholic Church could come from Apuron.
He can decide to return to Guam from the U.S. mainland, where he was last seen in January, in a California county near San Francisco.
He can give up all of his material wealth and donate them to the church.
He can apologize to those he allegedly abused.
He can resign from being an officer of the church, and end the boycott some have decided to do at the collections box.
Archbishop Apuron, it's time for you to face your problems head on. Come back.