A Vatican administrator who was sent to the small pacific island of Guam to investigate accusations of child sex abuse against Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 70, who denies any wrongdoing and refuses to step down from his post, has taken the unprecedented step of issuing a statement that was read out at all church services on the fiercely Catholic island.
Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai who is currently at the Vatican took the step of writing to the Roman Catholic faithful on the island after it emerged that Guam's legislature passed a bill to remove the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits on the US territory which would allow alleged victims to sue the church for reparation despite many of the alleged abuses taking place in the 1970s and now being out of time to be pursued in the civil courts.
"I can assure you that the gravely serious allegations against Archbishop Apuron will continue to be dealt with... a canonical trial. His Holiness, Pope Francis, is monitoring the proceedings," Tai-Fai said in the letter read out across the territory which is considered to have one of the most strategically important US military bases in the world - holding thousands of US military personnel on the island which sits in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and China.
"On behalf of the church, I want to apologise personally to the survivors of sexual abuse everywhere who have suffered so much at the hands of clergy," he added. "We cannot undo the betrayal of trust and faith and the horrendous acts that the clergy have committed against the youngest and the most innocent amongst us."
"Victims often need many years to overcome the pain of their abuse and time to obtain the courage needed to speak out about the abuse that they have suffered," the bill's author Senator Frank Blas said.
In the letter, Tai-Fai urged the faithful to lobby US Governor Eddie Calvo not to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk on Wednesday, arguing it would have "damaging unintended consequences" for the church in Guam, according to Agence France-Presse. The archdiocese is likely to be made bankrupt if the legislation is signed into law on the island. More than eight out of ten Guam residents are Roman Catholic.
"Bankruptcy will mean the forced sale of church properties that currently house our schools and social services," he said. "That will have a devastating effect on education and charitable work."
Tai-Fai proposed a fund to provide financial compensation for victims and the establishment of a task force to ensure children were protected. "I submit that we can and must do these things without destroying all the good being done for our community by our church, both laity and clergy."