A panel of Vatican judges will soon begin deliberating the fate of suspended Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who is facing accusations of child sex abuse when he was a Guam priest decades ago.
Apuron's ongoing canonical trial in the Vatican is in its penultimate phase, Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes said during a press conference yesterday.
"I have been notified, in the past couple of weeks, by the notary of the tribunal (confirming) that the discovery period of the trial (has) ended and the next phase, which will happen sometime in the next several weeks, will be a convening of the three judges to deliberate on what they heard," Byrnes said.
After the Vatican judges deliberate, Byrnes said, they will publish the decision, which will include what he called "the point of the trial" in addition to the verdict.
Three possible verdicts
He said three possible verdicts may be reached: guilty, not guilty or not proven.
However, Byrnes added there is no way of knowing how long these next steps will take or what the exact penalties could be. He said that he and canon lawyers he has consulted with are in uncharted waters, given that this is the first time in history that a canonical trial of this nature has been called for concerning a bishop.
He did say, over the course of trial proceedings, Apuron will be permitted to appeal whatever sentence the tribunal issues and that, if such an appeal is made, officials will investigate whether the tribunal's process was followed properly.
Considering the three possible verdicts that might be reached as early as late summer, Byrnes said in the event Apuron is declared not guilty, the Archdiocese of Agana will need to consider what it might be like if Apuron returned to Guam as its archbishop.
Byrnes: Apuron returning would be a 'disaster'
Byrnes shared a sentiment expressed last year by Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai, that Apuron should be removed as the bishop of record for the Archdiocese of Agana, adding that he felt it would be a "disaster" if Apuron returned.
"(Hon's) sentiment, I entirely endorse," Byrnes said. "I'm convinced, actually, that this archdiocese would be unable to achieve peace really until it's clear that Archbishop Apuron is no longer the bishop of record of this diocese."
Byrnes explained his feelings were not based on any findings of the canonical trial, but rather on his experiences during his seven-month tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church in Guam.
He said that since he has taken the helm, he discovered "widespread disarray and ineffectiveness" of church operations in the Archdiocese of Agana, including improperly used consultative bodies and a sex abuse policy that was "sorely lacking" a solid process to handle allegations of abuse.
"In other words, one of the things I'm saying – I think it would be a disaster if Archbishop Apuron were to return as the bishop of record," Byrnes said. "The past has to become the past, so that we're able to move forward in peace and continue the rebuilding of the church."