Names have been circulating for months about Rome’s possible replacement of Michael Byrnes to be the next bishop of the Archdiocese of Agana. Pope Francis yesterday accepted Mr. Byrnes’s resignation effective immediately, ending nearly a decade of struggle and service on Guam.
Mr. Byrnes replaced disgraced former bishop Anthony Apuron in 2016, after Apuron fled from the flood of sex abuse allegations against him and the archdiocese he led for decades.
The clergy sex scandal mixed with the discovery of financial misconduct and corruption within the archdiocese during the Apuron era conspired to throw the church on Guam into its most tumultuous period in its four centuries of existence here. Mr. Byrnes reportedly struggled to repair the damage, and succeeded in calming the waters. Prior to his administration, pioneers of the revolution that deposed Apuron had linked the corruption to the rise of the Neocatechumenal Way (“The Way”), and the power that sect was given by Apuron. This history is chronicled extensively in the popular blog JungleWatch, created by one of those pioneers: Tim Rohr.
According to Mr. Rohr, the writer with the pseudonym Frenchie, and several other sources, The Way forces did not go away when Mr. Apuron did. In fact, they say, their undercurrent of power has strengthened since Mr. Byrnes first became noticeably ill.
The vacancy in the office of the metropolitan archbishop of Agana has created both uncertainty and opportunity. But who benefits? And will the next bishop be a proxy for special interest?
Here are the names and faces of contenders being considered by the Nuncio and by Rome, according to sources:
Bishop Ryan Jimenez
Bishop of Chalan Kanoa
Bishop Jimenez tonight is on Guam to lead the annual Chrism Mass. It will be the first time in months the bishop’s chair in Agana will be occupied. For some who want to see Jimenez appointed to the Archdiocese of Agana, tonight’s optics will show a reverence for Jimenez, as Guam’s priests – including newly-appointed Apostolic Administrator Fr. Romeo “Romy” Convocar – renew their vows under the bishop’s blessings. Jimenez is regarded as a favorite among those wanting The Way to have greater influence in Guam, the CNMI, and the greater Micronesian region. The Way has flourished since his leadership of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa. Several Saipan sources tell Kandit he has been a sympathizer to the sect, allowing them to flourish in Saipan. The bishop’s leadership of the archdiocese ostensibly could elevate The Way even further on Guam.
Monsignor James Benavente
Rector, Dulce Nombre de Maria Agana Cathedral Basilica
The popular Monsignor James Benavente is considered the front runner of the pack among Catholics who do not want to see a bishop sympathizer of The Way. Along with Fr. Paul Gofigan, Monsignor James was an early victim of the Apuron-Neo era. The two priests were fired and ostracized by Apuron last decade, igniting protests that led to Apuron’s fall. Both were later vindicated by the Guam church’s interim leader between the Apuron and Byrnes administrations – Archbishop Savio Hon. Monsignor James is well loved by parishioners, is respected by powerful Catholics on Guam, and maintains a personal friendship with Cardinal Luis Tagle, one of the most powerful men in Rome.
Fr. Romeo “Romy” Convocar
Vicar General and Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Agana
Fr. Romy has spent the past year acting as the de facto head of the church on Guam. His supporters point to his proven leadership, both as administrator and shepherd, while his opponents question whether he has the constitution to stand up to The Way. Fr. Romy has the distinction of leading the church on Guam through the final days of the nearly-decade long lawsuits against the archdiocese that resulted in bankruptcy. With the first round of settlements set to occur any day now, the stewardship of church financial affairs and the rebuilding of trust in the church’s leaders will be of paramount concern. Depending on who you talk to, Fr. Romy either is the right or wrong man for the job.
Fr. Eric Forbes
The Capuchin priest, scholar, and historian Fr. Eric Forbes is a beloved figure in the Catholic Church on Guam. Not only is he well respected and regarded for his academic excellence, he also is seen as humble and highly charismatic. Among all the noted contenders, only he lives under a vow of poverty; though it should be noted Anthony Apuron once was a Capuchin priest who disregarded that vow once he became a bishop and began favoring the finer things in life. Unlike Apuron, there are no widespread rumors or testimony of scandal against Fr. Eric. He has influential connections in Rome that may be pulling for him for the job, the source revealed.
Fr. Paul Gofigan
Pastor, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
Fr. Paul fits the Pope Francis bill: he’s a pastor first, and is known for his care and compassion over his flock. Wherever the priest has been pastor, the pews have been full, and the parishioners have been engaged. “He has the chutzpah, and he’s not indebted to anyone,” the source told Kandit. He is “highly intelligent, highly educated. Not connected to any mafia, and the one [The Way] and Adelup fear the most,” the source told Kandit. “The best candidate would be the one that doesn’t want the job,” the source went on to say, telling Kandit he believes Fr. Paul does not want to be the next bishop. “He hates politics.”
The field reportedly is larger than these five supposed contenders for the job. The Apostolic Nuncio for the Pacific Ocean, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa reportedly is reviewing that field and whittling down the candidates as he prepares to make his recommendations to Rome.
Archdiocese of Agana spokesman Tony Diaz on The Ray Gibson Show today said Catholics are welcome to write letters of support for anyone they believe Pope Francis should appoint as bishop of Guam and submit those letters to the Chancery office in Agana.