Church unveils sexual abuse policy reform

PRESS CONFERENCE: Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, left, makes remarks during a pres conference yesterday afternoon at the Archdiocese of Agana Chancery office in Agana Heights. Archdiocese of Agana Director of Communications Tony Diaz is also pictured. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Afters months of development, and amid multiple sex abuse lawsuits that accuse former Guam priests and others in the church, the Archdiocese of Agana has unveiled its amended sexual abuse policy.

The policy includes new policies for the independent review board – which oversees sexual abuse allegations against clergy – and the archdiocese's safe environment program. 

The new overall policy is aligned with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, according to Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes. 

Between 500 and 800 clergymen and adults who work with children – including volunteers – will be required to take mandated online training courses developed by Virtus Online. Training is expected to be completed by January 2018. 

Background checks will be conducted in tandem with the training.

Virtus training identifies best practices programs "designed to help prevent wrongdoing and promote 'rightdoing' within religious organizations," according to the program website.

Incident at Bishop Baumgartner 

The mandated courses are in addition to training already conducted by the Task Force for the Protection of Minors. The fruit of those efforts is exemplified in the recent incident at Bishop Baumgartner Memorial Catholic School, according to Byrnes. 

Peregrine San Nicolas, a sports director at the school, was arrested in August after a 10-year-old student told her parents San Nicolas had touched her "right breast area" at different times since January of this year. 

"I think it says something about the effectiveness of our task force efforts because the school did everything right in immediately making a report to civil authorities, in dealing immediately with the accused and providing support and pastoral care and attention to the victim," Byrnes said.

"The young person has returned to school and feels safe because she saw it in action that she was heard and the adults responded appropriately and swiftly."

The Virtus training costs about $2,800 annually. The chancery will front costs for the initial year, with individual parishes responsible for costs in subsequent years.

Lawsuits add 'some impetus'

The updated sexual abuse policy reflects commitments the archdiocese made about nine months ago in the wake of multiple sexual abuse allegations against clergy members, including suspended Archbishop Anthony Apuron. A Vatican tribunal's decision on Apuron has yet to be publicly released.

"The reason we felt we needed to develop a new policy, part of it was just the inadequacy of the prior policy ... also when we decided to adopt the charter, it meant more than just a simple sexual abuse policy and it just grew into something larger," Byrnes stated during a press conference on Oct. 24 announcing the new policy. 

"Of course, the steadily increasing number of (sex abuse) lawsuits still coming forward, that also adds some impetus to make sure we're more than adequately prepared for, God forbid, some other allegation of sexual abuse among current clergy should arise."

The new policy was recommended to Byrnes by the independent review board. Members of the board include Chairman Juan Rapadas, members Eric Barnes, Mariles Benavente, Joseph Diaz, Sister Trinie Pangelinan, Virginia Yasuhiro and Tricia Tenorio. 

A shortcoming of the original review board, when Apuron was still on island, was that all the decision-making power was concentrated with the archbishop.

If a complaint is levied against the archbishop, the complaint is deferred immediately to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

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