The window to file sexual abuse lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Guam is now closed. It ended yesterday, Aug. 15.
The first abuse claims against former members of the catholic clergy were filed in 2014. There are now more than 240, following a flurry of cases filed in recent weeks ahead of the Thursday deadline.
The lawsuits have brought the Catholic Church of Guam to its knees, forcing it to sell off church assets to pay off damage claims that amount to more than $1 billion. In January, when the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, it listed $22.9 million in assets and $45.6 million in liabilities.
A status hearing is scheduled in the District Court of Guam this morning when the final tally maybe be known.
“Make no mistake, this isn’t done,” said Tim Rohr who spoke to members of the Rotary Club of Guam Thursday. “Just because the church is settling this bankruptcy thing doesn’t mean that it’s over.”
There are many other abuse victims who never came forward, he said. Some died, some settled quietly.
Walter Denton was among the first to come forward. He accompanied Rohr to the Rotary meeting yesterday at the Outrigger Guam Resort, but he did not speak.
Denton was one of the first to step forward to say he was molested by former archbishop Anthony Apuron when Apuron was a priest. A Vatican tribunal found Apuron guilty of sexually abusing children. He is barred from returning to Guam.
The sex abuse scandals here were nine times greater, proportionally, than the scandals that affected the Archdiocese of Boston, Rohr said.
He noted that the Boston diocese had 12 abuse victims per 100,000 residents, while Guam has 147 abuse victims per 100,000.
The impact of that abuse on the fabric of island life and the Catholic Church is widespread and deep, Rohr said. He listed a string of social ills that he suggested could be linked to the abuse of Guam’s youth by the Catholic clergy.
Guam, he said, has the 14th highest suicide rate in the world. The number of reported rapes on Guam is triple the national average, and the island has the highest divorce rate in the world – 4.7 divorces per 100,000 residents.
“We have a real problem here,” Rohr said. “It’s the church’s fault.”
For 50 years, he said, “the very people we entrusted with our faith were raping, molesting, pillaging, destroying from underneath.”
“How does that happen in an 80% Catholic island?” he asked.
Rohr suggested that the island's culture played a role. "More important than the Catholic Church, was not to embarrass or bring shame on the family,” he said. “Protecting the family became more important than protecting the child ... it was Satan’s door into this culture.”
Rohr is a real estate agent whose blog was instrumental in bringing much of the abuse to light. He said there have been 8.8 million hits to junglewatch.info since 2013 when he began writing about the abuse scandal. About 75,000 comments have been posted on his blog.
The real credit for exposing the abuse belongs to the Catholic lay community, Rohr said, especially the island’s manåmko'. "It wasn’t the Legislature, it wasn’t the attorneys, it wasn’t even the media," he said.
“Look who was out there for 54 Sundays in a row,” Rohr said, referring to the island's elders who walked for weeks in a picket line in front of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedra-Basilica carrying signs demanding former Archbishop Anthony Apuron's ouster and an end to the abuse.
Rohr also credited the enactment of a law lifting the statute of limitations on institutional liability for sexual abuse, which former Gov. Eddie Calvo signed in September 2016.
Despite it all, Rohr said he is still a believer.
“My faith wasn’t in Archbishop Apuron or father so-and-so,” he said. “You don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.”