While suspended Archbishop Anthony Apuron hasn't returned to Guam since he was accused of sexually abusing several altar boys and his own nephew, Apuron recently found a way to meet the pope in the Vatican, according to images from the Vatican's official media.
The more than 50 Sundays of marches by Guam's Catholics to call for Apuron to be stripped of his title and leadership role also didn't keep the pope from meeting Apuron on Wednesday.
In a series of images by the Vatican's official media, the pope put his right hand on Apuron's forehead. In a handshake, the pope placed his other hand over Apuron's. In another photograph, Apuron talked to the pope while Apuron's left hand held a folded paper or envelope, which the pope was later seen holding.
A Saturday article in La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, reported the island’s suspended archbishop arrived at the Paul VI Hall in a wheelchair, due to health problems.
In the images posted by the Vatican's official media, Apuron was standing when he met with the pope.
The newspaper quoted Apuron as telling the pope, “Holy Father, I wanted to see you before dying.”
The newspaper stated the pope reacted with affection, shaking the bishop’s hand and privately giving him a few words of encouragement, the article stated.
A Vatican tribunal held secret hearings on the sexual abuse charges against Apuron last year, but the outcome of that process hasn't been made public.
The La Stampa article states the release of a sentence should have wrapped up last August, “but, after several events, appears to have failed to reach a conclusion.”
Despite the highly publicized allegations against Apuron, the suspended archbishop didn't appear to have fallen out of the pope's graces. Wearing a formal, black cassock and cap, Apuron also kissed the pope's hand.
The images showed Apuron had a one-on-one talk with the pope after several other church officials, in bishop's or cardinal's garb, took turns meeting the pope.
Last month, Apuron broke his silence, through a written statement, after leaving the island more than a year ago. Apuron's departure from Guam followed accusations from four former altar boys who accused Apuron of sexually assaulting them when he was a priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Agat. A fifth victim, Apuron’s nephew, Mark Apuron, came forward and accused his uncle of raping him in the chancery bathroom in 1989 or 1990 when he was a teen, Post files state.
Apuron, in the previously released statement released to island media, denied all allegations made against him and said he believed the latest accusation from his nephew, seemed “particularly timed” to influence the verdict of the Vatican trial.
The canonical trial was expected to be completed and a decision returned last summer based on information provided to those who provided testimony during the trial by Cardinal Raymond Burke and members of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith assigned to investigate the sexual abuse claims made against Apuron.
Last October, Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes said he had been informed by Rev. Justin Wachs, the canonical notary, that the sentence, or decision, regarding Apuron had been determined, but was awaiting the judges’ signatures on the sentence. Byrnes said the outcome had not been disclosed.
Post files state Wachs resigned from his post at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith effective Sept. 30, 2017, amid allegations of sexual harassment in his home parish in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Last September, Cardinal Burke was reappointed to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church, according to The Catholic Herald.