US

Catholic Church Embroiled In Nearly 100 Lawsuits Over Sexual Abuse In Guam

Nearly 100 lawsuits alleging sexual abuses over four decades were filed against the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America in Guam, beginning in 2016.

Ninety-six lawsuits named the Archdiocese of Agana as a defendant, while 52 lawsuits named the Boy Scouts of America as a codefendant for enabling the priests to continue their abuse, according to a Friday report from USA Today’s Pacific Daily News (PDF). The allegations of sexual abuse span from 1955 to 1994, and involve an archbishop, 13 priest (one of whom was also a Boy Scout leader), and a janitor and a teacher from a Catholic school.

The population of Guam, a U.S. island territory, is 85 percent Catholic, with a total of 26 parishes on the island. The ongoing legal battle bears echoes of the Boston sex abuse scandal uncovered in 2002 by the Boston Globe, but Guam’s scandal goes deeper. Guam has a population of fewer than 163,000, with 59 lawsuits per 100,000 people in this case, compared to 12 lawsuits per 100,000 in the Boston scandal. The Catholic church’s influence in Guam goes far beyond the walls of the cathedrals, as certain priests allegedly wield political power rivaled only by the local military.

Many of the instances of sexual abuse alleged in these lawsuits previously went unreported, as the defendants allegedly used their positions as figures of spiritual and political authority to prey on vulnerable children. Those allegedly abused said the piety of the local population and the threat of retribution from their local church authorities discouraged them from telling anyone.

“I thought about it a million times, but I was scared to tell them, especially my mom,” a man identified as R.B. told the PDF. “She’s a die-hard Catholic. If I tell her a priest did that to me, I don’t think she would believe me.”

Joelle Casteix, regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said alleged victims of abuse in Guam were silenced by threats of alienation from their community, loss of jobs, and threats against their family members. Casteix first traveled to Guam in 2009 after one of the priests’ alleged victims called her.

“I was told outright that victims were scared that they would be shunned from their families, kicked out of the church, lose their jobs, or that by speaking out against the church or Apuron, they would threaten the financial security of their loved ones,” Casteix said. “No one wanted to be seen with me, not even the tipster who initially called me. I was told that the church was the most powerful entity on the island, outside of the military.”

Foremost among the alleged threats to the victims was Archbishop Anthony Apuron, whom Pope Francis suspended in 2016. Apuron actively influenced the politics of Guam, allegedly demanding that bishops under his authority vote on legislation in whatever way supported his own views, even threatening to excommunicate those who did not vote as he did in the case of a proposed law against abortion.

Four former altar boys accused Apuron of sexual abuse. Apuron has also come under fire for his alleged mismanagement of church funds and real estate. No one came forward against Apuron until 2016, when the Guam legislature retroactively lifted the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse.

The potential repercussions of crossing Apuron were allegedly astronomical before his suspension by Francis, according to Casteix.

“Messing with Apuron was worse than messing with God,” Casteix said.

Benjamin Cruz, Guam Legislature Speaker and former Guam Supreme Court justice, said that characterization of Apuron was accurate.

“He, as archbishop, had immense power,” Cruz said.

The Vatican is trying Apuron in a rare canonical trial. Apuron could be dismissed from the clergy as a result of the trial. An advocate for abuse victims, Dominican priest Tom Doyle said the Vatican’s trying of Apuron is “very, very rare, and the reason it’s rare is because the Vatican or the popes have protected the bishops. They consider them to be the most important part of the church, so they protect them, no matter what they’ve done.”

Fifty-five of the lawsuits named Father Louis Brouillard, who was also a scoutmaster, as an alleged abuser, to which Brouillard has admitted abusing at least 20 boys. In one instance, a victim identified as S.A.F. alleged in his lawsuit that Brouillard told him in 1975 “If you tell anyone, no one will believe you because I am a priest.”

The Catholic Church still pays Brouillard a $550 monthly stipend, according to USA Today.

“The archdiocese takes sexual abuse very seriously,” the Archdiocese of Agana said in a July 28 statement published by Pacific Island Times. “We care deeply about every person who steps forward and we look forward to a full resolution of all cases.”

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members, and the behavior included in these allegations runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands,” said Jeff Sulzbach, CEO of the BSA’s Aloha Council, in a statement published by Kuam News. “The Boy Scouts of America extends its deepest sympathies to any person who has been hurt by child sexual abuse.”

The BSA has developed training for adult leaders and safeguards specifically designed to prevent abuse of youth members, including background checks, rules strictly dictating the amount of physical contact allowed between adult leaders and members, mandating that youth members cannot be supervised by less than two leaders, and mandatory reporting of instances of abuse.

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