Fr. Ronald Richards played a pivotal role in what became a long, drawn out battle by the Archdiocese of Agana against awarding victims of clergy abuse what a federal judge finally awarded them last year, about the same time he left the archdiocese. The former chancellor was the de facto leader of the archdiocese during that crucial period while Archbishop Michael Byrnes was here and battling illness, according to several reports in JungleWatch.
Then, both Archbishop Byrnes and Fr. Richards left back to the Archdiocese of Detroit from which they both came. And while the now-retired archbishop is the subject of daily prayer by the Catholic faithful in Guam at nearly every Mass, Fr. Richards has found himself, again, at the center of a controversy, to state the least.
And it is the content of this controversy that is raising eyebrows in Guam.
Several Kandit and JungleWatch sources familiar with the inner workings of the Guam archdiocese have described Fr. Richards’ tenure with less than complimentary words.
“Fr. Richards arrived on Guam a few months after Archbishop Byrnes, but while Archbishop Byrnes made strong efforts to understand the island culture and even read in Chamoru, Fr. Richards never even tried, choosing instead to have a very condescending, almost colonialist approach,” the JungleWatch contributor known as Frenchie wrote in a June 6, 2021 article on the popular site.
What followed was a body of work by the former chancellor that demoralized an archdiocese already reeling from the Apuron scandal, according to another source, and suspicions let on the record in the U.S. District Court of Guam that the archdiocese was not being honest about its assets to a committee of creditors in the bankruptcy case.
Fr. Richards, court documents and public records show, was front and center for the archdiocese at the time.
Last week, the Archdiocese of Detroit published a short statement on its website informing the public that Fr. Richards would be on a personal leave of absence. Nothing else followed. Until another investigative blog site dropped a bombshell.
“There has been a lot going on over the course of the last eight months,” Church Militant quoted Fr. Richards from the last homily he gave prior to his departure from a Detroit parish as its pastor. “I’ve been under a lot of external stress that I cannot handle by staying here.”
He continued, according to the Church Militant article, saying, “I’ve made a choice to take a leave of absence from the priesthood. My personal health is not in good shape emotionally; spiritually, I think I’m OK, but it has nothing to do with anyone here. I never thought I would be at this point making this type of decision. But for me to be the person God wants me to be, this is what I have to do, and I recognize it may be selfish, and I’m sorry.”
Church Militant reported, “Again holding back tears, he then apologized for anything he might have done or said that harmed anyone. Fr. Richards attributed any such mistakes to his unstable emotional state.”
Eight months ago nearly coincides with the time the victims of clergy abuse received their first installment of payments from the archdiocese of Agana. It also is eight months after Fr. Richards left Guam and returned to Detroit.
The Archdiocese of Detroit refuses to answer Church Militant’s requests for further detail about this ‘harm’ Fr. Richards allegedly has caused, or his “unstable emotional state.”
Kandit asked the Archdiocese of Agana’s spokesman whether the Guam archdiocese was aware of the allegations, any misconduct on the part of Fr. Richards while he was on Guam, or his emotional or mental state while he was engaged in the church sex abuse cases in Guam.
“The archdiocese has viewed the post on social media regarding the ministry of Father Ron Richards in the Archdiocese of Detroit, including his personal message to the congregation at his parish. That’s the extent of what we know,” archdiocese spokesman Tony Diaz wrote in reply to Kandit.
“Father Ron formerly served with us temporarily as Episcopal Vicar before leaving us on May 31, 2022 and returning to the Archdiocese of Detroit a year and a half ago,” Mr. Diaz continued. “He served our Church faithfully, properly and effectively during his time with us. We care about his well-being and offer prayers for him.”
“Knowing our recent history of abuse and deceit, it is easy to understand that people would be circumspect at least,” Frenchie wrote in JungleWatch in an October 11, 2023 reaction to the Church Militant piece. “Personally, as I wrote at the time and on prior occasions, I felt that Fr. Richards had taken advantage of a personal friendly relation with Archbishop Byrnes, which hailed back to their university days, to try to advance his career.”
For Frenchie and several others, including priests on Guam, they could never figure out why Fr. Richards acted the way he did, and allegedly caused more division and derision at a time when the church on Guam needed anything but.
But unless you read JungleWatch or are involved in the politics of the archdiocese of Agana, this would be news to you. The culture of secrecy in one Agana seems to share with Detroit. Let’s hope both archdioceses are not falling back into the habit of covering up something more nefarious than an emotional spasm.
Fr. Richards was a powerful man on Guam, who wielded that power to make decisions that affected hundreds of people directly, and tens of thousands indirectly.
[Photo credit: JungleWatch]