The archdiocese’s recent announcement of the establishment of a Hope and Healing program has come under criticism by attorney David Lujan, who represents several dozen victims of clergy sexual abuse.
"It’s a scam. The institution that knows about scams, there’s no greater institution than the Catholic Church. They’ve mastered the art of deception and deceit," Lujan told The Guam Daily Post.
Two weeks ago, the Archdiocese of Agana announced the formation of the Hope and Healing program as part of its efforts to reach out to victims of clergy sexual abuse by establishing a victim’s settlement fund. The fund would develop as the archdiocese raises money through a liquidation of assets and resources. California-based attorney Mike Caspino was named the director of the independent group that will administer the settlement fund for victims and said, during a media conference, that the program aims to help ease the pain caused by the abuse.
"It already shows that they’re not operating in good faith. We will never agree to anyone that is related to the church," Lujan said.
Lujan confirmed he met with Caspino two weeks ago and there was never mention of the California lawyer being the director of the program. The Guam attorney accuses Caspino of having an ulterior motive. "It’s not a fair mediation. He charges the church by the hour. Of course, his loyalty is to the church, not to (victims)," Lujan said. "He’s here to pick our pockets."
The lawyer representing sex abuse victims explained that the program was supposed to have a panel made up of five members: one in law enforcement; a doctor; a social worker; a psychologist/counselor; and a member of the community agreed upon by the victims and the Catholic Church.
Lujan said the parties are supposed to have input on the makeup of the committee. "There has to be an agreement as to the composition, not people on the payroll of the church like Caspino. What they’re trying to say to the public is completely different from what we discussed," he said.
Once the committee is formed, sex abuse victims are supposed to answer a brief questionnaire that would be jointly drafted by the parties followed by a half-day session for each victim with a social worker or psychologist approved or recommended by the doctor on the board.
Upon the conclusion, a report of the interview and the questionnaire would be given to the board to make a recommendation as to damages. The entire process should be done in 90 to 120 days, the attorney said.
Lujan said the recommendation is "non-binding" and the victims don’t have to agree.
Once the program is in place, Lujan said he has agreed to go to the court and ask for a four-week stay, or temporary halting of the case, to provide input on the program and come to a joint agreement. After the four weeks, if there isn’t an agreement, he said he would ask the judge to set the matter for trial.
Lujan is critical of the church’s desire to heal. Messages of conciliation and repentance, he said, are "completely contradicted" by the archdiocese’s filing of a motion to dismiss the civil complaints filed in District Court.
"It looks like Archbishop (Michael) Byrnes, his left hand does not know what the right hand is doing," Lujan said. "It’s phony."
Until the parties can agree on the program, Lujan said he will continue to file lawsuits as well as amend the complaints to include more facts about the Vatican’s control of the Guam archdiocese.
"I will also ask that the church’s tax-exempt status be revoked. The church has allowed all of this (abuse) to happen all these years and cover it up," Lujan said.