A mutual friend of Guam Public Auditor Benjamin F. Cruz, Jr. vouched for Mr. Cruz’s devotion to his Catholic faith during a tumultuous time for him. Apparently, when Mr. Cruz introduced a same-sex marriage statute and was attacked (quite ironically) by now-disgraced former Archbishop Anthony Apuron, the former legislative speaker continued going to Mass.
Our friend despised how Apuron and others were treating Mr. Cruz. The public auditor, who also is a retired judge and Supreme Court chief justice, reportedly tried convincing our friend to remain faithful despite the shortcomings of the church’s leaders. “F*** that,” this friend said of the Archdiocese of Agana.
And just like that, the church lost yet another parishioner. That was almost a decade ago. In that decade, the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted. And that was following a very public injustice against two of the most beloved priests on the island: Monsignor James Benavente and Father Paul Gofigan. Let’s not forget the land scam involving a church-owned hotel, and the threats against the Carmelites that caused them to relocate to California.
Since then, the gaps in the pews have grown with each passing Sunday. The exodus from the church met with the simultaneous growth of the other Christian denominations. The archdiocese – once the most dominating social, cultural, and political force on Guam – continues to struggle with its message to us.
Every reasonable person cringes at hypocrisy. And try as the leaders of the Archdiocese of Agana may, the faithful aren’t stupid. They know insincerity when they see and hear it. And we also know that it has been quite some time since the church on Guam had a leader who was both present, and sincerely a shepherd of the lost flock.
There was Apuron, who had been (allegedly) a child predator in shepherd’s cassocks since the death of Bishop Felixberto Flores. By the archdiocese’s own admission, the church during Apuron’s time had covered up an extensive network of priests and other predators, who were raping mostly young boys. And then we had an interim leader, who came to assess and figure out the mess. Then came Archbishop Michael Byrnes from Detroit. Poor guy.
Read JungleWatch if you want the truth about what happened to him. The politicians of the archdiocese chewed him up, and spit him out into ill health.
Since then there’s been a vacuum in leadership, and boy is it ever evident. Sources from all corners of the Archdiocese of Agana agree that some of the priests, stakeholders with financial interests, and the controversial Neocatechumenal Way (both its leadership on Guam, and the hierarchy that runs all the way to Rome) are at the same time like vultures swirling for soon-to-be-prey, and rats on a raft to save themselves and get across the river.
Archbishop Byrnes stewarded the church through the upheaval of the class action lawsuit by the known victims of the depraved clergy and Catholic laypeople. This gentleman sat before Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood for years trying to save the church on Guam while answering for the abuses committed by everyone but him. He truly was innocent of it all; an outsider who came to embrace this troubled flock, and to fix the mess.
But once his hands were off the wheel, the archdiocese – and mind you, Apuron is gone – went back to its old ways.
An employee at Mount Carmel School in Agat allegedly was raping a pre-teen student. Everyone knew. No one (except the whistleblowers) did anything. Another cover up.
A pastor, who controls the board of another school, had his brother appointed principal despite a questionable record in the school system. That man allegedly had a sexual affair with another married school official, clearly violating the new policy erected by Archbishop Byrnes in the aftermath of the clergy sex abuse scandal. There is documented evidence of the whole thing, and the very real possibility that the archdiocese will soon find itself on the other end of another lawsuit. This is not even to mention Guam’s sexual harassment laws, and the liability that forms if the archdiocese receives any resources from Title IX federal grants. Everyone knew. No one did anything. Another cover up.
That same pastor, it has been reported to Kandit, very recently has caused a stir among his brother priests, when he refused to pay wages to a priest (a U.S. veteran of war at that) simply because of a personal dislike. Not only does that appear on its face as cruel and unChristian, that’s a federal and local labor law violation!
The archdiocese is about to close one of the darkest chapters of its 500-year-old history on Guam with a promise to do better while operating as though nothing happened.
If the archdiocese wants to know why it struggles every Sunday, here it is. Plain as day. People aren’t stupid. And, like BJ Cruz- and my- mutual friend, many Catholics want to know that they are being shepherded by men of the cloth who mean what they say, and do as they preach.
BJ Cruz and I both found our way back to the church, despite the significant shortcomings of many of its past and present leaders. But, it was a struggle; an unnecessary one for many who grew up sitting on those same pews that now are bleeding parishioners. There has to be a simpler way.
Truly, as with all things, it starts with leadership. Unfortunately, Archbishop Byrnes can’t be here because of whatever ailment has been hurting him. Guam needs a bishop. An honest one. One, whom the people know and respect.
From what I understand about the protocols of the Roman Catholic Church, the decision is Rome’s. And if you read JungleWatch, as millions do, you’ll know that there’s been a struggle for Guam laced by less-than-noble motives.
Let’s all hope Rome can dispense with the politics. Give us a bishop who can refill the pews and bring love back to the faithful.