Bill 326-33 has been signed into law by Gov. Eddie Calvo, opening the door for civil action against perpetrators of child sex abuse. The governor, in a lengthy letter, detailed his reasoning for signing the bill.

"My conscience has been conflicted for the last two weeks. Let me be clear that I am not judging any single person or institution. I am deciding whether a group of people has been denied justice and should therefore be entitled to seek it with judgment by due process of law," the governor stated.

Bill 326 lifts the statute of limitations for civil cases involving child sex abuse. The measure was authored by Sen. Frank Blas Jr. and was passed by 13 senators during a legislative session in September. Sens. Tina Muña-Barnes and Tom Ada were absent during the vote.

The bill developed amid accusations of sexual molestation by Archbishop Anthony Apuron. Three former altar boys – Walter Denton, Roy Quintanilla and Roland Sondia – and Doris Concepcion, the mother of the late Joseph “Sonny” Quinata, have all accused Apuron of abuse. Other individuals have also come forward either as alleged victims of abuse by clergy or as witness to such abuse.

Cost of healing

While the bill's passage was essentially unanimous, the timeline leading up to the governor's decision was a rocky quagmire of differing opinions as members of the catholic community on island disagreed on whether the measure should be enacted. The Archdiocese of Agana, now under the leadership of Apostolic Administrator Savio Hon Tai Fai, called on Calvo to veto the bill, citing concern that it would financially cripple the church as it lay vulnerable to civil suits. This put in jeopardy the charity services and schools run by the archdiocese, Hon added.

But these statements only served to divide the church and abstain the healing Hon was meant to facilitate, according to Joseph Cameron, who co-founded the Healing Hearts Crisis Center in the 1980s, the only rape crisis center on Guam, according to the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center. As co-founder, Cameron focused his energy on holistic healing, which takes into account the individual's well being as a whole. He said he applauded the governor's decision to sign the bill because it filled a "gap" in the healing process.

"Healing costs money," Cameron said. "And if it takes the church, as a corporation – because the church is a corporation ... the church as a whole must do everything in its power to help heal these people that are still hurting," Cameron said.

Hon came to Guam to heal Guam's Catholic community, he added, but by expressing opposition to the bill, Hon became divisive rather than pull the community together. With the door now open for civil action, Cameron said he would "highly recommend" that the alleged victims take this route against their accusers.

Judgement of law

"Bill 326 does not proclaim any person or institution's guilt or complicity. Whether assets are forfeited is secondary to a judgment of whether it is right – in the pursuit of justice – to do so. That judgment comes after due process of law is exhausted. And that judgment does not come with the enactment of this law or even from society itself. It is for a court to decide," Calvo stated in his letter.

"No earthly asset can replace a child's stolen innocence. In judging whether this is a matter of justice, consequences upon assets are not for the governor to consider. We leave that to the wisdom of judges."

Shortly after the news of the bill's signing, the church and Blas, issued separate releases on the matter.

Despite its initial opposition, the archdiocese joined Blas in thanking Calvo for enacting the law.

"We acknowledge the agony suffered by victims of child sexual abuse by clergy and the responsibility the Archdiocese has to bear. The Archdiocese is developing a dedicated fund as one way to help persons who have been gravely hurt in this way by clergy," the church release stated.

Regardless of the church's stance now, Cameron maintained that the church and Hon's actions only divided their community in seeking to protect their financial assets through their initial actions.

"The church can make any statement now after the fact ... but the fact (is) it divided its congregation, it divided its people," he said.

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