According to the Miami Herald, The Vatican has upheld its conviction of Guam’s ousted archbishop for sexually abusing minors, exiled him from the Pacific island and barred him from presenting himself as a bishop. But it stopped short of defrocking him in a decision that again raised questions about whether the Vatican was truly embracing a “zero tolerance” policy for sex abuse, since it allowed Archbishop Anthony Apuron to remain in the ministry.
The Vatican announced the decision against the 73-year-old Apuron on Thursday, saying a Vatican appeals tribunal had reached the verdict Feb. 9. It cannot be appealed. The announcement ends a chapter that has convulsed the remote U.S. Pacific island territory, after some 200 people came forward accusing Catholic priests of raping and molesting them over decades.
Victims and their advocates denounced the sentence as inadequate, given the accusations against Apuron. The ousted bishop continued to maintain his innocence in a lengthy statement Thursday and declared the decision to exile him from Guam “analogous to a death sentence.”
His replacement as archbishop of Agana, Michael Byrnes, hailed the verdict as a necessary closure to a “long and painful period for our church.”
“The victims, survivors and their families who have suffered greatly can have some measure of solace that justice has been rendered in the church’s tribunal process,” Byrnes said.
Despite the Vatican’s judgment, Apuron cannot be criminally charged as the offenses took place as long as 30 to 40 years ago, beyond the statute of limitations.
Pope Francis had named a temporary administrator for Guam in 2016 after Apuron was accused by former altar boys of sexually abusing them when he was a priest. Dozens of cases involving other priests on the island have since come to light, and the archdiocese was facing over $100 million in civil lawsuits when it filed for bankruptcy in January.
Victims and their advocates said the absence of a defrocking showed the Vatican wasn’t serious about cracking down on abusers.
“Not removed from clerical state, not removed from ministry. What more do we need to see to know that the pope and his curia intend to reneg on promises of zero tolerance,” tweeted Marie Collins, an Irish survivor who resigned in frustration from Pope Francis’ sex abuse advisory commission in 2017.
Anne Barrett Doyle of the online resource Bishop Accountability said the sentence didn’t fit the gravity of Apuron’s crimes.
“Why is he still a priest?” she asked.
“This is a man who inflicted incalculable harm on the faithful of Guam,” she said in a statement. “He sexually assaulted children and enabled many other priests to rape and molest children too.”
“This is a tragedy. A serial pedophile priest has just been given the freedom to repeat his crimes against countless other young victims,” said nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman.