For the last 27 years, Mark Mafnas Apuron has held onto a secret, one that resulted in him being estranged from his immediate family members and left him ashamed and petrified.
"When my experience happened, I thought I was the only one," Apuron said, as he sat in an office in Hagåtña yesterday, speaking with The Guam Daily Post.
But Apuron resolved to make this year different by coming forward and speaking of the past.
The 43-year-old will be filing a lawsuit this week alleging that he was sexually abused in the chancery in 1990 by his uncle, now-suspended Archbishop Anthony Apuron.
Mark Apuron was then 16 years old and had returned to Guam with his family after his dad retired from the military. He recalls going to his "Uncle Tony's house" – the Archdiocese of Agana Chancery Office – frequently for various functions.
Anthony Apuron was installed as the archbishop of Agana on May 11, 1986, according to the Archdiocese of Agana. He was also elected president of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of the Pacific in 1990.
During social functions at the chancery, Mark Apuron remembers making alcoholic beverages for his family members at their request, and would occasionally take a sip.
On one occasion in 1990, Mark Apuron sneaked away from the crowd to smoke a cigarette in his uncle's bathroom inside the chancery. While inside, sipping an alcohol mixed drink and puffing on a cigarette, the 16-year-old became distracted testing out the bottles of cologne displayed on his uncle's bathroom vanity.
"I just wanted to enjoy myself and do it in private, where nobody could see me," Mark Apuron said, explaining that he was a teen experimenting. "I just wanted to try it."
The next thing he knew, his uncle, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, was staring at him angrily.
"He asked, 'What are you doing?'" Mark Apuron said. He said he froze, afraid of what trouble he was in, when his uncle allegedly pulled down his pants and pushed him onto the vanity. The teen thought he was going to get a whipping for smoking and drinking but instead, he said, his uncle raped him. He managed to shove the older relative off and get away, and stayed with his parents until they were ready to leave.
'Like I was doing something wrong'
At the time, the teen refused to attend any gatherings where the archbishop would be present. On occasions where he would see his uncle, he said he felt a sense of intimidation. Mark's parents began questioning why he no longer attended family functions, putting a strain on their relationship that has carried on through the years.
Ashamed and embarrassed, Mark Apuron said he was unable to tell his parents what had happened.
"I would try to bring it up to my parents, but it was like their demeanor towards me was like I was doing something wrong," he said. "I'm numb to it now. I can still remember the experience of it."
For years, he tried to run away from what happened that day in the chancery bathroom.
"There was really nobody I could talk to about it. Like I said – who's going to believe me?" Mark Apuron said. "I believed he was the powerful, untouchable uncle."
Up until two years ago, Mark Apuron thought he was alone.
"I had no idea," he said. "I thought I was the only one."
Then he heard the stories of Walter Denton, Roy Quintanilla, Roland Sondia and Joseph "Sonny" Quinata, who alleged they had been sexually abused by Anthony Apuron when he was a priest at Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Agat in the 1960s.
It took Mark Apuron more than a year to build up the strength to come forward and share his story. He said it was the stories of the four former altar boys that gave him the courage to come forward.
"I'm not going to be stuck in the same prison," he said. "This is my way out, to say it and let it be known. I don't mean any disrespect, but this is my experience."
As part of his healing process, the Navy veteran hopes to meet with the men who have accused his uncle to let them know that he believes their stories and to let go of the feelings of shame that have plagued him for nearly 30 years.
"What do I have to be ashamed of? If anything, it's my uncle who should be ashamed of what he has done to me and what he has been doing," Mark Apuron said.
He questions why his uncle didn't stay on island to face his accusers.
"If you're scared of someone, you run from them. If you cower down from them it's because you did something. If you haven't done anything wrong, then stand your ground, you don't run away."
Looking back and reflecting on the incident, he said he wouldn't be surprised if there were still other victims who have yet to come forward.
'My healing process'
Not defined by what happened in his past, Mark Apuron is hoping his story can give others the courage to speak out.
"If it will help anyone else that has been in my situation or has had an experience because of my uncle, then that's why I'm here and also because it's part of my healing process," he stated.
Anthony Apuron, through his attorney, Jacqueline Taitano-Terlaje, has continued to fight the claims of abuse. He awaits the outcome of a Vatican canonical trial into the allegations made in civil complaints filed against him in the District Court of Guam.