By Tony C. Diaz
Umatuna Si Yu’os
With the Vatican issuing a final verdict of guilty against Bishop Anthony Apuron on Apr. 4, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes is now the full and unquestionable leader of the Archdiocese of Agaña.
To ensure that all Guam Catholics have complete clarity and understanding of that fact, Father Ron Richards, J.C.L., chancellor of the archdiocese transmitted an announcement to all pastors, parochial administrators, principals, religious leaders and directors of the archdiocese last Tuesday, Apr. 23. The message by Father Ron underscoring Pope Francis’ affirmation of Archbishop Byrnes as the shepherd of the Catholic Church on Guam read as follows:
“Christ is Risen!
As a result of the press release from the Holy See Press Office date 06 April 2019 and in accordance with canon 409 §1 & §2, please note and make the necessary changes in all references to Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, S.T.D., that he is no longer the Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña, but the Metropolitan Archbishop of Agaña.
I ask for your continued prayers and support for our archbishop and our archdiocese as we move forward in or faith.”
The chancellor’s office attached several documents with its announcement, including this Apr. 6 pronouncement by the Holy See “Bollettino” or Bulletin under the heading “Resignations and Appointments”:
“Succession of the archbishop of Agaña, Guam
With the publication of the confirmation of the unappealable judgement of the Court of First Appeal against H.E. Msgr. Anthony Sablan Apuron, O.F.M. Cap., H.E. Msgr. Michael Jude Byrnes will succeed him as archbishop of the metropolitan see of Agaña, Guam.”
The other documents accompanying the chancellor’s memo were 1.) Apr. 4, 2019 Bulletin from the Holy See Press Office announcing the final verdict finding Bishop Apuron guilty of several instances of child sexual abuse (finding the Archbishop guilty of delicts against the Sixth Commandment with minors.) 2.) Apr. 4, 2019 News Release from the Archdiocese of Agaña 3.) Apr. 5, 2019 Statement of Archbishop Byrnes made during a news conference.
Archbishop Byrnes asked all Catholics to welcome the final decision from Rome “as another major stepping stone toward healing in our church.”
“It alone will not bring closure to the tremendous hurt, sins and crimes of the past committed by many members of our church,” he said. “However, it is a significant step.”
He called for healing in the church and apologized again to victims of abuse by Bishop Apuron during the Apr. 5 news conference.
“Once more, on behalf of the entire Archdiocese of Agaña, I extend our deepest apologies to the local men and their families who suffered irreparable harm by Tony Apuron in the past,” he said. “I am truly sorry for the betrayal and severe anguish that you suffered and continue to suffer.”
Archbishop Byrnes also asked for the faithful’s support and prayers as he shepherds our people.
“Though I had already been given pastoral and administrative authority over the archdiocese by Pope Francis during my appointment on Oct. 31, 2016, I am now fully and officially the Archbishop of Agaña,” Archbishop Byrnes said.
“I ask for your continued support and I sincerely appreciate your prayers. Please continue building the bridges that will move us forward in our journey to make amends and create a better archdiocese.”
The official transition from Coadjutor Archbishop to full Metropolitan Archbishop of Agaña took place instantly when the Holy See Press announced in its Apr. 4 news release that the Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had upheld its verdict from Mar. 16, 2018 finding Bishop Apuron guilty of child sexual abuse.
The complete Apr. 4 news release from the Vatican read:
“As was announced on 16 March 2018, the Apostolic Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded a First Instance canonical penal trial in the case of the Most Reverend Anthony Sablan Apuron, O.F.M.Cap. (Agaña, Guam).
As was noted at the time, an appeal was possible and was in fact lodged. That
appeal has been concluded. On 7 February 2019, the Tribunal of Second Instance upheld the sentence of First Instance finding the Archbishop guilty of delicts against the Sixth Commandment with minors.
The penalties imposed are as follows: the privation of office; the perpetual prohibition from dwelling, even temporarily, in the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Agaña; and the perpetual prohibition from using the insignia attached to the rank of Bishop. This decision represents the definitive conclusion in this case. No further appeals are possible.”
One of the initial penalties imposed upon now Bishop Apuron which were upheld on Apr. 4, 2019 is the “privation of office.” This means he no longer holds the title of Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agaña or the title of an archbishop, period. Neither can he use the insignia of a bishop, including ring and miter. Archbishop Byrnes is seeking further clarification from Rome.
Archbishop Byrnes called on all people of the archdiocese to be vigilant against child abuse.
“What our church can and must do in all cases of clergy abuse, is to forthrightly acknowledge the sin, and mete out punishment and penance to the sinner for the sake of his own salvation,” he said. “As well, we do everything in our power to ensure that the horrible harm inflicted to the innocent, is never repeated.”