Vatican City, Apr 4, 2019 / 04:26 am (CNA).- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced Thursday that, following an appeal, the Vatican's court has upheld last year's verdict finding an archbishop in Guam guilty of abuse of minors.
A release from the CDF April 4 said that Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 73, was found "guilty of delicts against the Sixth Commandment with minors."
The decision, made February 7, is considered final.
Apuron was sentenced to privation of the office of Archbishop of Agana and forbidden from using the insignia attached to the rank of bishop, such as the mitre and ring. He is also forbidden from living within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese.
He was not removed from ministry or from the clerical state, nor has he been assigned to live in prayer and penance.
Apuron was in March 2018 found guilty of "certain" unspecified charges and sentenced to be removed and prohibited from living within the Archdiocese of Agana. He immediately filed an appeal.
The CDF did not, at the time, state the charges for which the archbishop was found guilty. Sources close to the case told CNA at the time that the archbishop was found guilty of a minority of the allegations leveled against him.
Having been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, the penalty leveled against him is unusual – often a cleric found guilty of such crimes would be "laicized," or removed from the clerical state, sources told CNA last year.
Sources also noted that the archbishop has seemingly maintained his ecclesiastical faculties, and though restricted from residence in Guam, is apparently able to exercise ministry as a priest.
A source close to the case told CNA that the penalty is "a complete contradiction" to the sentence.
The source said that if the archbishop is guilty of sexual abuse against minors, "justice would demand the strongest possible penalty," adding "this punishment maintains the status quo."
One expert suggested to CNA that the five-judge panel may have been divided on the archbishop's guilt, which could explain the disparity between a guilty verdict and an unusually light sanction.
One source questioned whether pressure to quickly resolve the matter might have influenced the sentence.
Pope Francis told journalists in August 2018 that he was personally considering the archbishop's appeal and bypassing the traditional “giuria” — the council of bishops that make up a tribunal — because Apuron's situation was a "very difficult case."
Instead, Pope Francis said he “took it upon myself” and created a commission of canonists to assist him with the case.
Apuron has maintained his innocence of all the allegations leveled against him.
Apuron was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority by Pope Francis in 2016, in the wake of the allegations, and was effectively replaced by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, formerly of Detroit.
The canonical trial against Apuron began in October 2016, with Cardinal Burke appointed by Pope Francis as the trial’s presiding judge. Byrnes told reporters that the Vatican reached a decision on the case in October 2017.
Sources questioned why the CDF waited until March 2018 to finalize sentences apparently completed in mid-2017.
One source close to the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam questioned whether Archbishop Byrnes pushed the Vatican to release the sentence in order to resolve public concern about the matter in Guam.
However, the source questioned whether Byrnes has been appropriately advised on the matter. "Most of the people who were opposed to [Apuron] in terms of governance" have become advisers to Byrnes, the source said.
"The curial advice Byrnes is receiving is institutionally and personally opposed to Apuron."
The most recent allegation against Apuron was made in January 2018 by the archbishop’s nephew, Mark Apuron. He filed a lawsuit Jan. 10, 2018 claiming that his uncle raped him in a Church bathroom in 1989 or 1990. This was the fifth lawsuit to accuse the archbishop of sexual abuse of minors during his time as a pastor and bishop.
The archbishop denied the allegations in a statement Jan. 18, 2018 writing, “God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one,” according to Guam Pacific Daily News.
In addition to this claim, Apuron also faced four other accusations from former altar boys, who charged the archbishop with abuse in the 1970s when he served as a parish priest in Agat.
The first allegations against the archbishop were made public in May 2016. Mark’s attorney, David Lujan, said that his client was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family about the alleged abuse until recently.
CNA staff contributed to this report.
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