Court documents have shown that a systemic pattern of sexual abuse by clergy of the Catholic Church took place on the US territory of Guam for over six decades.
The Associated Press conducted an extensive investigation that found collusion and cover-ups from priests all the way up to the top of the church’s hierarchy had been happening since the 1950s.
Anthony Sablan Apuron served as the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agaña, Guam, from 1986 until 2016 when he was convicted in a secret Vatican trial and suspended. In 2018 he was found guilty of sexual abusing minors and finally removed from his post.
There have since been at least 223 lawsuits filed accusing 35 clergymen, teachers, and Boy Scout leaders of sexual abuse. The Guam archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection this year, estimating $45 million in liabilities.
Apuron was named by seven men in lawsuits, including one by his own nephew.
"He believed he was untouchable, more powerful than the governor," Water Denton, a former US Army sergeant who alleges he was raped by Apuron 40 years ago as an altar boy, told the Associated Press.
Denton reported the rape in August 2015 to Apuron’s superior, the apostolic nuncio for the Pacific. He also wrote a four-page letter to Pope Francis, and the Vatican opened an investigation.
In May 2016, a Guam survivor publicly accused Apuron of molesting him. Denton then informed the church that he too was going public. The day before his scheduled press conference, Pope Francis suspended Apuron, Associated Press reports.
In a written statement issued in April, after Pope Francis had rejected his final appeal, Apuron maintained his innocence but compared the decision to a death sentence.
“I lose my homeland, my family, my church, my people, even my language, and I remain alone in complete humiliation, old and in failing health,” Apuron said.
Despite his being removed from public ministry he remains a bishop and receives a monthly $1,500 stipend from the church.
When the Associated Press approached the Guam archdiocese it said it did not know where Apuron is.
Among the abuse cases revealed in the documents is that of Rev. Louis Brouillard, who came to Guam after being expelled from the US for allegedly making sexual advances on a boy. He was first reported for abuse on the island in 1956, but moved to another parish. While serving on the island for 30 years, Brouillard is accused of abusing about 132 children, both men and women. He was transferred to Minnesota in 1981 after a complaint against him was lodged with the Guam Police, according to the documents.
In 2016, Brouillard signed a statement admitting to abusing at least 20 children. Brouillard died while still a priest in 2018.
No member of the Catholic clergy on Guam has ever been prosecuted for a sex crime, including Apuron and Brouillard.
Documents that could have helped prosecute the abusers are believed to have been destroyed. Apuron’s successor, Michael Jude Byrnes, has said he heard rumours of “a big bonfire” before Apuron departed.
Since Apuron’s departure and the subsequent lawsuits, priests in Guam are not permitted to be alone with children, and a committee is reviewing sexual assault claims.