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Analysis: Gregory, Apuron, ‘zero tolerance,’ and pontifical secrets

Catholics who want to see how the U.S. Church will handle clerical sexual abuse, writes JD Flynn, will be watching Archbishop Gregory. But those interested in what Pope Francis will do should also carefully watch the case of Archbishop Apuron.

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Guam, during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Feb. 7, 2018. A Vatican tribunal found Archbishop Apuron guilty of sexual abuse of minors. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By J.D. Flynn

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- Thursday morning, the Vatican announced the fates of two American archbishops: one has become the next Archbishop of Washington, and the other has been declared guilty of child sexual abuse; his final appeal had been exhausted.

The next moves of Archbishop Wilton Gregory, soon to be installed as Washington’s archbishop, will be carefully scrutinized, and the inside story of his appointment has already begun to shed some light on the dynamics of influence and authority between the Vatican and the U.S. bishops.

But equally important is the story of Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who had until today been Archbishop of Agaña, Guam. Apuron was initially found guilty of some acts of the sexual abuse of minors in March 2018. His appeal consisted of a full trial with a second instance court, and, it was announced today, he has lost that appeal. The decision was made Feb. 7, the Vatican reported, and announced today.

Apuron is accused of sexually abusing several minors, many of them former altar boys, including his own nephew.

Guam, an island in Micronesia, is a U.S. territory of 162,472 people. Its people, including Apuron, are U.S. citizens. This means that Apuron was the first U.S. archbishop to be definitively convicted of canonical crimes related to child sexual abuse; a final decision in his case came six days before the Feb. 13 decision that laicized Theodore McCarrick.

But unlike McCarrick, Apuron has not been laicized. Instead, he was removed from his post in Guam and forbidden from living there, and prohibited from using the insignia of a bishop: from wearing an episcopal ring or miter.

The disparity between McCarrick’s sentence and Apuron’s is stunning. While McCarrick was removed completely from the clerical state, Apuron remains a priest in good standing, able to celebrate the sacraments, to teach, and to participate as a priest in the life of the Church.

Canonists have raised serious questions about Apuron’s sentence. If he has been convicted of sexually abusing minors, why is he not subject to laicization? And if he is judged to be suitable for ministry, what does his conviction mean?

The case was heard at first instance by a panel of judges that included Cardinal Raymond Burke, a canon lawyer who is widely respected for his legal expertise even by Catholics who take issue with his theology. How, observers ask, could a panel including a canonist as respected as Burke reach a verdict of guilty, and then hand down such a mild sentence?

Sources close to the archbishop told CNA that Apuron was charged with more than five canonical delicts at first instance, and convicted of only two. At the time of that conviction, the panel of judges prohibited his residence in Guam, and stripped him from his position as Archbishop of Agana.

Apuron appealed the guilty decision. The appeal was not a procedural or perfunctory review, but an entirely new canonical process, administered by the pope himself, with assistance from a group of canon lawyers. In an April 4 release, Apuron said that the “fact and evidence presented demonstrated my total innocence.”

Nevertheless, the appeal failed, and the penalty imposed in the first trial stayed mostly intact. In fact, two provisos were added to the penalty, seemingly added directly by the pope himself. The first was the prohibition against using episcopal insignia, and the second was the addition of the phrase “even temporarily” in the prohibition of residence.

Why and how Apuron’s case unfolded as it did is a mystery.

The archbishop blamed the failure of his appeal on “a pressure group that plotted to destroy me, and which has made itself clearly known even to authorities in Rome.” While such defenses sound often like unbalanced conspiracy theories, it cannot be ignored that something is unusual about Apuron’s case.

And theories abound. Questions have been raised about the credibility of witnesses, and the degree to which a web of connections between witnesses, attorneys, and real estate developers might have been a factor in the case. Some Italian journalists have noted that at least one influential ecclesiastical figure in Guam has a close relationship with Manila’s Cardinal Luis Tagle. And itt is worth noting that Apuron is still subject to lawsuits in Guam, and, after the residency prohibition was strengthened, is completely prohibited from returning to defend himself.

But untangling this mysterious case will not be easy. And the questions it raises point to issues that the Vatican will likely be forced to address, especially as the number of cases involving the misconduct of bishops seems to be on the rise.

The first is the nature of the pontifical secret. Because cases like Apuron’s are subject to a pontifical secret, Catholics are informed of the initial charges, and the final verdict and sentence, but nothing in between. When the sentence and verdict raise questions, as Apuron’s do, speculation leads to confusion, and conspiracy theories abound. Eventually, the absence of transparency leads to questions about the integrity of the process, which have already begun to be asked in Apuron’s case.

Other high-profile cases are looming, including those of Cardinal George Pell and Archbishop Luigi Ventura. At the same time, the Church is facing a crisis of credibility, and seems mostly to have determined that transparency is crucial to restoring trust.

As the Church continues to take on high-profile canonical cases, questions will likely be raised at the CDF, and by U.S. bishops, about the wisdom of conducting high-profile trials in secrecy, especially without the provision of substantive and direct information at their conclusion.

The second issue raised by the Apuron trial is that of “zero tolerance.”

As the Apuron case shows, there is now a serious practical inconsistency in Church governance: while much of the West expects that a cleric convicted of crimes related to child sexual abuse will be permanently excised from ministry, it is clear that the Vatican believes there are cases, such as Apuron’s, where a cleric can be convicted of sexually abusing minors and remain in ministry. This inconsistency will likely fuel mistrust in the Vatican’s commitment to seriously addressing sexual abuse and coercion in the Church.

To U.S. Catholics, it has become a baseline expectation that no cleric found to have committed an act of sexual abuse or coercion will remain in ministry. When deviations from that expectation are discovered, they are a source of scandal, and of anger. In fact, much of the anger that has erupted in the Church in the past nine months has been the consequence of frustration over instances, some very serious, in which the Church’s “zero tolerance” policy has been inconsistently applied, or not applied at all.

As it happens, it is Archbishop Gregory who was one of the architects of zero tolerance.

In June 2002, Gregory stood at a podium in a Dallas hotel, to offer, on behalf of the Church and his brother bishops, a “profound apology” for clerical sexual abuse

“We did not go far enough to ensure that every child and minor was safe from sexual abuse. Rightfully, the faithful are questioning why we failed to take the necessary steps,” he told his brother bishops.

“We are the ones, whether through ignorance or lack of vigilance or, God forbid, with knowledge, who allowed priest abusers to remain in ministry and reassigned them to communities where they continued to abuse.”

“Together,” Gregory said, “we must ensure that every child in America is protected from sexual abuse by a priest or any representative of the church.”

Gregory’s speech catalyzed the U.S. bishops to ensure that “zero tolerance” policies would be essential to the “Dallas Charter,” and the “Essential Norms,” the framework upon which the Church in the U.S. built its response to the problem of child sexual abuse.

Before that now-famous U.S. bishops’ 2002 meeting in Dallas, Gregory had already spent eight years addressing serious and difficult sexual abuse cases in Illinois. “Zero tolerance” of clerics found to have committed sexual abuse against minors was central to his approach.

“Zero tolerance” was the approach he championed in Dallas, and became fundamental to the U.S. approach to addressing clerical sexual abuse.

But while “zero tolerance” is a central plank of the U.S. approach to the problem of clerical sexual abuse, it has been more controversial in other parts of the world.

While Pope Francis has long endorsed a “zero tolerance” approach to clerical sex abusers, his action has not always matched his rhetoric.

The pope has a history of intervening, in several high-profile cases, on behalf of clerics who stood accused of clerical sexual abuse, among them Fr. Mauro Inzoli, an Italian removed from ministry by Benedict XVI, restored to ministry by Francis in 2014, and then dismissed from the clerical state by Francis in 2017, and Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who was accused in 2015 of complicity in child abuse but kept in office until 2018.

And the pope is not alone in facing questions about commitment to a “zero tolerance” approach to clerical sexual abuse.

At the October synod of bishops on young adults, several bishops brought up the idea of including language about “zero tolerance” in synod documents. Objections were raised, especially by synod fathers from the developing world. The language didn’t make it into the text, or into the pope’s recently released apostolic exhortation on youth, Christus vivit.

Apuron, who is a U.S. citizen, is now forbidden from living in his native Guam. If he settles the mainland U.S., where “zero tolerance” is an expected facet of Church governance, his ministry, and even his presence, may lead to serious outcry, especially since the nature of the delicts for which he has been convicted is largely unknown. That outcry might force the Vatican to apply more consistent measures, and offer more definitive guidelines, with regard to the concept of “zero tolerance.”

Most Catholics who want to see how the U.S. Church will handle clerical sexual abuse will be carefully watching Archbishop Wilton Gregory in the months to come. And they should. But those interested in what the pope will do should also carefully watch the case of Archbishop Apuron. And, as the U.S. bishops get closer to their crucial plenary meeting in June, astute Catholics will be watching to see whether Gregory’s “zero tolerance” approach will meet with favor in Rome, and what that could mean for Apuron.

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  1. The men like Archbishop Gregory who concocted the “ZERO Tolerance” sound-bite are frauds.

    Among these frauds are the notorious ex-Cardinal/ ex-priest McCarrick, and his “creator” of the fraudulent VIRTUS “Child Protection Program,” the notorious ex-priest (Msgr.) Edward Arsenault (convicted in a criminal court for embezzling at least $300,000 to pay various homosexual “partners”), who also ran the monstrously evil St. Luke’s Institute (Silver Spring, MD), the psycho-sexual-perversion and detention center used by the homosexual mafia to protect and restore homosexually active priests for the mafia, and imprison and destroy orthodox priests who dare to oppose the promotion of LGBTQ ideology (e.g., “the boy-wonder” Cardinal Cupich ordered the orthodox priest Father Kalcik of Chicago to submit to detention at St. Luke’s after his parishioners burned the LBGTQ rainbow flag flown raised on the altar at Mass by their former fraudulent pastor and his mentor the fraud Cardinal Bernardin).

    All of these “ZERO Tolerance” men, including Archbishop Gregory, are total double-minded frauds. Archbishop Gregory is known to have promoted the LGBTQ movement in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He allowed the Cathedral of The a Immaculate Conception to be used to support LGBTQ pride events.

    These men are liars – they are frauds of the McCarrick Establishment – and the secret consensual sex cult of Pope Francis and his “boy-wonder” Cardinal Cupich.

    Frauds: dead wood stacked for burning.

    It is utterly insane to trust anything to Archbishop Wilton Gregory. He is a man of 70 years who has devoted his career to promoting the McCarrick Establishment. The entire Chancery of the AD of Washington, his new HQ, is a cesspool of double-living frauds like Cardinal Wuerl.

    Gregory = more lying.

  2. He cannot live in his own homeland for this…but he’s still a priest in active ministry. Coming to an almost-zero tolerance parish near you?

    “The pope has a history of intervening, in several high-profile cases, on behalf of clerics who stood accused of clerical sexual abuse, among them Fr. Mauro Inzoli, an Italian removed from ministry by Benedict XVI, restored to ministry by Francis in 2014, and then dismissed from the clerical state by Francis in 2017, and Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who was accused in 2015 of complicity in child abuse but kept in office until 2018”

    Bergoglio: somewhat “zero tolerance intolerant” with regard to “the scandal.” His real, most consistent “zero tolerance” applies to decent-Catholic-people sense of justice (the “Pharisees,” alternately “the dummies”), any “fundamentalist” support for the Great Commission, and Faith and Reason (which might challenge the barely camouflaged relativism/voluntarism Rosica so well defined and glowingly praised).

    If a reporter asks Gregory (labeled a “moderate” by Fox News) what he thinks of Bergoglio’s Apuron “zero tolerance” decision and he says anything in the direction of “pontifical secret” and “it all depends” or if he enters some “more spiritual” form of evasiveness or evokes Cupich’s “more important matters” stratagem…

    “At the October synod of bishops on young adults, several bishops brought up the idea of including language about “zero tolerance” in synod documents. Objections were raised, especially by synod fathers from the developing world. The language didn’t make it into the text, or into the pope’s recently released apostolic exhortation on youth, Christus vivit.”

    The civil authorities…law enforcement…eventually RICO?

  3. Myself and others believe that any Priest or person found guilty of sexual abuse should be defrocked and handed over to authorities. We cannot have those who harm our children remaining in the church as Priest. While they may not be around children at the Parish or religious institute they are free to walk the streets. It is when they are out and about they pose a danger.

    • It’s crazy how the people who CAN pass background checks are the ones causing the problems in the Church! Worse is the people that condone sexual misconduct! Double standards!That is a sin, I cannot live with! Sadly, it’s in al institutions of the world!

  4. For myself more disparaging news. Evidence of the decline of our faith. Archbishop Wilton Gregory then bishop visited the Casa Santa Maria Rome when I domiciled there during studies. He gave out the distinct impression that homosexuality in the priesthood was problematic. Later he made a public statement that the priesthood has become a haven for homosexuals and was roundly castigated by his peers. He backtracked somewhat but I was encouraged by his bravery. That second time around in Rome convinced me he was correct. What happened since with the now Archbishop of Washington a most prestigious see seems part of the overall alignment of Catholic prelates with the cultural acceptance of homosexuality. His recent affirmations of the LGBT agenda is shocking. Alarming that the Pope obviously knowledgeable appoints him to former Cardinal McCarrick’s see. That indicates an indelible message of accommodation of LGBT and fearful indication of where the Pontiff is attempting to lead us. He may have his entourage of supporters and fervent followers but not this priest.

  5. Every time you mention zero tolerance, you put quote marks around it. Just what do you mean by “zero tolerance”?

  6. The notion of zero tolerance is a slogan which has little to do with justice. The concept of sexual abuse is quite broad and anal penetration and oral sex are a lot more serious than other actions such as kissing and hugging. What did Apuron actually do and when? It seems to me that ignoring the statute of limitations is a dangerous business and what in Latin is called “praescriptio” was introduced by Roman jurists for the very good reason that it is practically impossible to establish the facts of what happened after many years or even decades. In such cases, for the most part, it is the word of the accuser against the accused. Human nature being what it is and memories can be blurred, it is hazardous to really etablish what actually happened. We cannot judge why this sentence was given to Apuron without more information on the actual trial. Americans seem to think that their legal system is the best in the world, but the Muller witch hunt and the collateral damage caused by it is proof that there there is something rotten in it. Besides, the U.S with 4.4% of the population of the world has 22% of the world’s prison population. It is not surprising therefore that the zero tolerance slogan began there.

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