Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes had hoped 2017 would be a year of reparation. It turned into a year of more than 100 sex abuse lawsuits, a canonical trial and efforts to fix a broken Catholic Church on Guam.
At the start of the year, Byrnes gave the island's Catholic faithful assurance that he would work to regain their “tremendous loss of trust” in the Catholic Church, after suspended Archbishop Anthony Apuron left the island amid allegations that he sexually abused altar boys decades ago when he was a priest.
Apuron faces penal charges in connection with the allegations, prompting a Vatican tribunal’s visit to Guam in February to interview Apuron’s accusers and other individuals related to their inquiry.
Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, the judge of the tribunal; Rev. Justin Wachs, the notary; and other members of the Vatican tribunal came to Guam in hopes of gaining insight into the allegations made against Apuron and to hear from his accusers personally. The interviews with Apuron’s accusers occurred off-island several weeks later.
In October, Byrnes announced a sentence, or decision, had been reached by the Vatican tribunal in Apuron’s case, but it had not been published because the judges needed to sign off on the sentence.
The published sentence is expected to include the point of the trial and the verdict which could be guilty, not guilty or not proven.
Apuron, through his local attorney, Jacqueline Taitano-Terlaje, has maintained his innocence and refused to participate in settlement discussions. The suspended archbishop was located in Fairfield county near San Francisco, California, in January last year by private investigators hired by attorney David Lujan. Lujan represents Apuron’s accusers and dozens of other child sex abuse victims who have filed lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Agana, former clergy members, the Boy Scouts of America, former Boy Scouts leaders and several Catholic schools on Guam.
Apuron sought dismissal of the cases filed against him, contending the public law that paved the way for child sex abuse civil cases to be filed against their abusers is "fundamentally oppressive and unconstitutional."
District Court Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan Jr. had recommended Apuron's motion to dismiss be denied, finding that Public Law 33-187 revived the plaintiffs' claims that were barred by the previous statute of limitations.
The judge found the plaintiffs' claims were not time-barred because of the retroactive application of the public law.
But Taitano-Terlaje disagrees.
"Retroactive application to events that allegedly occurred more than 40 years ago is constitutionally defective and fails to comport with Guam law," the attorney wrote in the filing.
The motion to dismiss is currently under advisement with Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood.
The plaintiffs, meanwhile, are in the process of beginning mediation in an effort to settle the 148 child sex abuse lawsuits out of court. The lawsuit seeks upward of $500 million in damages.
Details of the mediation protocol have not been released, but the process is nonbinding, which means any of the parties can choose to opt out of any settlement at any time and go back to the court and ask for the cases to proceed to trial.
Mediation isn’t expected to begin until at least March 2018.