More than 220 former altar boys, students, and Boy Scouts are suing the Catholic archdiocese in the U.S. island territory of Guam over alleged sexual assaults perpetrated by 35 clergy, teachers, and scoutmasters.
Thousands of pages of court documents reviewed by The Associated Press, along with extensive interviews, tell a story of systemic abuse going back to the 1950s and of repeated collusion by predator priests. Seven men have publicly accused Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of sexual assaults they endured as children. One of the accusers is Apuron’s own nephew.
Apuron was convicted in a secret Vatican trial and suspended in 2016. Now the alleged victims are suing the archdiocese, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year. The archdiocese estimated at least $45 million in liabilities. Survivors have until Aug. 15 to file for a financial settlement.
The suit in Guam comes amid a rash of Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States opening investigations into clergy child sex-abuse claims. More than half of the 187 Roman Catholic dioceses have done so or have announced plans to do so.
The recent barrage of investigations in the United States marks an extraordinary, renewed shift into scandals plaguing the church.
Apuron, now 73, denies the allegations, but in April, the Vatican revealed that Pope Francis had upheld the findings of the secret church trial that Apuron was guilty of sex crimes against children.
“He believed he was untouchable, more powerful than the governor,” Walter Denton, a former U.S. Army sergeant who alleges he was raped by Apuron 40 years ago as an altar boy, told AP. “But it was me against him, and I had nothing to lose.”
Apuron remains a bishop and receives a monthly $1,500 stipend from the church, although he has been removed from public ministry and effectively exiled from Guam. AP found Apuron recently registered to vote in New Jersey, despite residents at the address he listed saying he doesn’t live there and that they don’t know him. The Guam archdiocese said it didn’t know where Apuron was.
To this day, no member of the Catholic clergy on Guam has ever been prosecuted for a sex crime, including Apuron. Secret church files that could have helped provide evidence for prosecutions are alleged to have been burned. Guam has yet to issue a list of priests whom the church deems credibly accused of sexual assault.
Dioceses in the United States have been continually releasing names of priests and other clergy accused of sexually abusing children.
In April, the Archdiocese of New York released a list of 120 clergies “who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor or possessing child pornography.” The list included only archdiocesan clergy, which consists of bishops, priests, and deacons who were incardinated in the Archdiocese of New York.
Even though the misconduct of some priests has already been exposed, Laura Ahearn, a New York attorney in private practice who has represented clergy abuse victims for nearly 20 years, told The Epoch Times previously it’s still not enough.
“I think it is a significant underestimation of the number of priests. I think the dioceses should release all the names,” Ahearn said. “The community has to understand the Catholic Church has facilitated the largest cover-up of the victimization of children in our history.”
Ahearn said she still receives phone calls from child sex-abuse victims every day, including those abused by priests or clergy. She said the average age of victims ranges from 50 to even 82, because the trauma has kept them silent for so many years.
“Four individuals contacted me yesterday. This happens pretty regularly,” Ahearn said. “There are individuals who are contacting me out of the country as well. Yesterday, I had an individual contacting me from Puerto Rico.”
In many of the lists released by dioceses, the priests have already passed away.
Michael Dolce, an attorney at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, who represents child victims and adult survivors of clergy abuse, repeatedly emphasized a key sticking point in bringing perpetrators of child sex abuse to justice: the statute of limitations.
Statutes of limitations stop prosecutors from having the power to charge someone a certain number of years after a crime is committed or when the victim has reached a certain age. Dolce told The Epoch Times previously that the statute has “prevented many criminal or civil actions from going forward,” calling it the “main legal impediment.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.