The Mother Superior Dawn Marie of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites, an order of cloistered nuns dedicated to prayer, held a press briefing yesterday in which she explained why the sisterhood had left Guam.
After 50 years of prayer for the island's faithful, the Carmelite order celebrated their final mass on June 14 of this year and, the next day, left for their new home in California, Marie said yesterday.
Marie said she decided to hold the briefing in which she explained the reasons behind the move as an act of responsibility to the truth.
"Because we didn't have a hope for a viable future, that's the reason we had to move," she said.
As Marie tells it, the decision to relocate came after a series of events that eventually resulted in what she called a "toxic environment" that made it too difficult for the nuns to continue in their way of life. That series of events, she said, stemmed from the Archdiocese's acquisition of the former Hotel Accion property in Yona and the subsequent establishment of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary and the formation of the Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores Theological Institute (BDTI).
Marie told media yesterday that it all started back when she first became aware of the possibility that the archdiocese could acquire the Yona property for the use of the formation of priests sometime in the early 2000s.
"What I knew was that the Carmelite nuns devote their lives in loving prayer in the heart of the church and our focus is on prayers for the priesthood," she explained. "So realizing that there was no opportunity to form priests from Guam, I took great interest in the archbishop's [Anthony Apuron] direction of acquiring the land to start up a seminary [or similar institution] for Guam."
Later, Marie said she spoke with Apuron, who told her that he had managed to secure a "sweetheart loan" of $2 million from the Bank of Guam for the purchase of the Yona property, and that the loan came with an interest rate of $15,000 per month. She stated that with her simple experience as a cloistered nun in Malojloj, she understood the rate to be high.
Without any urging from Apuron, Marie said that she put out feelers to her many contacts and quickly found a donor willing to gift the $2 million on two conditions: that the money go toward the purchase of the Yona property for the purpose of forming priests for Guam and that the donor remain anonymous.
In an effort to dispel any lingering doubts as to the source of that money, Marie said that she was responsible for securing that gift from another Carmelite monastery in the U.S. mainland and called the gift an "act of love" to explain why it came with no legal strings attached.
Marie said that she had hoped that would be the extent of her involvement with the property issue.
"I didn't want to engage myself any further - I wanted to preserve my quiet life in Carmel in the cloister so I didn't admit any of my ideas," she said. "My only thought was that the property would belong to the archdiocese and that it would be used for the formation of priests."
Marie indicated that it was never her or the donor's desire that the property be used specifically for RMS, nor was it their wish that it be used for the establishment of BDTI and that, even as the issue grew in its controversy, she remained silent until certain events forced her hand.
"So at a certain point, I thought, 'Let's see if we can do more about it,' because obviously the land was not being used for the purpose for which we gave [the $2 million]," she said.
Marie explained that it was during a 2014 visit to the same Carmelite monastery that had gifted the $2 million that she was speaking with another Mother Superior when an email came in from Apuron. According to Marie, the email contained a request from Apuron asking the Mother Superior to lie about the original purpose of the monetary gift.
"Archbishop Anthony Apuron had asked the sisters who had given the gift to say that they had purposefully earmarked that gift for the [RMS] and for the San Vitores Theological Institute of Oceania," she reported. "That was completely untrue."
Marie said that the Mother Superior replied that she could not, in good conscious, acquiesce to his request because such a statement would be a lie.
When Marie returned to Guam, she said she met with Apuron and asked him why he had asked for what he did. According to her, Apuron replied that the email had been framed by Rev. Pius Sammut and a group referred to only as "they."
Marie told media that she and the Carmelite order that had gifted the money did not appreciate or agree with the deed restriction put over the Yona property in perpetuity for the use of RMS and BDTI. Further, she said that Apuron violated the donor's request for anonymity and that this violation caused the Carmelites based on Guam great harm.
"The anonymity was not respected by the archbishop," she said. "Very soon many people knew and misunderstood that the Carmelites in Malojloj had donated the $2 million."
It was this misunderstanding, in part, she explained, that resulted in the "toxic environment" that forced her decision to relocate their order.
During questioning, she added that it was her belief that Apuron had indeed been framed and that he was not responsible for the email requesting that the other Mother Superior lie.
"I totally believe that it was not Apuron," she said. "My own judgment, my own consideration, is that he's just being used so that somebody else could acquire the property – some other entity."
'Whole new era'
Additionally, Marie stated that the allegations of child sexual abuse leveled against Apuron further exacerbated the "toxic environment" for the sisters who had given their whole lives to the church.
"You couldn't hide the nuns from that," she added. "The Carmelites try to live a pretty pure life and the nuns are pretty simple and I just could not have them exposed to that anymore."
Marie reported that the four relocated nuns from Guam now reside on Highway 1 in California at the Carmel by the Sea Monastery under the Diocese of Monterey.
Adding that she looked toward the future for a "whole new era" under Archbishop Michael Byrnes, she said that the Carmelites now in California will still be the Carmelites of Guam and that they will continue to pray for Guam’s faithful.