Guam clergy sex abuse scandal reaches the Vatican, again

CATHEDRAL-BASILICA: The Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagåtña is seen on April 16. The Catholic church's sex abuse court case continued through 2021 without payments being made to abuse claimants. Post file photo

Guam's clergy sex abuse scandal has once again reached the Vatican, which this year started defending itself in a particular case, blaming the Holy See for former Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron's alleged sexual abuses.

The year came and went without any agreement between the Archdiocese of Agana and clergy sexual abuse claimants on the amount of restitution for the victims or on how to get the church out of bankruptcy.

The archdiocese this year increased its offer to pay clergy sex abuse survivors $34.38 million, including real estate.

The clergy sex abuse survivors, through the creditors committee, seek a minimum of $100 million and real estate properties.

A hearing on the two competing plans is expected next year.

The longer the bankruptcy proceedings take, the more money the archdiocese has to pay its own lawyers and the lawyers of the creditors committee.

The archdiocese has been billed and so far paid about $6 million in legal and other professional services fees.

For the abuse survivors, it's unclear when they might receive compensation. 

Law could be tested 

When 2022 rolls in, there will be more discussion in court related to the allegations of rape and sexual abuse of children by dozens of priests and other clergy dating back to the 1950s.

Of some 270 Guam clergy sex abuse plaintiffs since 2016, one particular case prompted the Vatican this year to hire a cadre of U.S.-based lawyers to convince the federal court to dismiss the case against the Holy See.

That plaintiff is identified in court documents only as D.M., to protect his privacy.

He wants the Vatican to be held accountable for what he said Apuron did to him in the 1990s.

D.M., in his civil case, alleged Apuron raped and molested him multiple times in school year 1994-1995 at the then-archbishop's residence.

He said the Holy See bears responsibility because it failed to protect him from Apuron.

D.M.'s case caught the Vatican's close attention only after his lawyer, Charles McDonald asked the District Court of Guam to seek the U.S. Department of State's help in service of process on the Holy See. 

The Vatican claims immunity under U.S. law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, among other things. The law allows foreign states to avoid being sued in court. 

Guam could be the next battleground to test this law.

When the Vatican needs to be defended in lawsuits on American soil, it calls on California-based attorney Jeffrey Lena. So the Vatican called on Lena to defend it in the Guam case.

D.M.'s legal team has also grown, including Pennsylvania-based attorney Marci A. Hamilton, an expert on clergy sex abuse and child sex abuse statutes of limitation.

But there are more players in the D.M. case. Besides Apuron and the Holy See, other defendants include the archdiocese, the Capuchin Franciscans and Father Duenas Memorial School, each with their own lawyers.

Prior to D.M.'s civil case, the Vatican was engaged in Guam's clergy sex abuse scandal.

In 2019, after the Vatican upheld Apuron's 2018 guilty verdict on multiple charges of sexual molestation, the Vatican permanently removed Apuron as Guam archbishop. 

In January 2019, the archdiocese sought reorganization bankruptcy protection, under the weight of claims exceeding $1 billion.

At the time, the archdiocese listed $22.96 million in assets, with $45.66 million in liabilities.

The archdiocese's goal is to compensate the abuse survivors while keeping Catholic parishes, schools and programs open. 

In January 2021, Assistant U.S. Trustee Curtis Ching told the court that there's "not enough progress" and still no viable plan to get the archdiocese out of bankruptcy.

"Things are moving very slowly," he said.

The archdiocese has said its motivation for going through the bankruptcy proceedings is the desire to "bring the greatest measure of justice" to abuse survivors.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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