HAGATNA, Guam (AP) — The new leader of the Catholic Church in Guam will immediately assume all responsibilities in the archdiocese while its suspended archbishop faces a church trial for allegedly sexually abusing altar boys, a church leader said Tuesday.
Pope Francis on Monday named Bishop Michael Jude Byrnes, the auxiliary bishop of Detroit, as coadjutor bishop of the Guam archdiocese. Coadjutors have succession rights when bishops resign, retire or are removed.
At a news conference Tuesday, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, the temporary apostolic administrator, said Francis gave Byrnes special rights to carry out all the duties as archbishop effective immediately.
Guam had been under an apostolic administrator since June when Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 71, was relieved of his duties after several former altar boys accused him of child sexual abuse. He is facing a canonical trial in the Vatican.
"Monsignor Byrnes has the complete right and responsibility over everything the archdiocese, including its financial administration, the discipline of the clergy, and its pastoral life," Hon said.
Hon said his role as apostolic administrator had now ended, but that he would remain on the island and assist Byrnes with a smooth transition.
Byrnes is expected to arrive at the end of November, and will lead parishioners on the closing of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Guam diocese.
In a statement, Byrnes said he was humbled by the pope's decision and knew there were challenges ahead.
"With my brother priests and deacons, with the catechists and other pastoral workers, and above all with the spiritual gifts of the people of God, I trust we will persevere in faith, hope and love, and will exercise the 'wisdom from above' to meet these challenges," he said.
Apuron has denied the allegations and refused to step down. He has not been charged criminally. The allegations got little attention when they first came to light in 2014 but resurfaced this summer after a deacon accused Apuron of keeping the archdiocese's sexual abuse policy weak to protect himself.
Also on Tuesday, a lawyer for four former altar boys filed a new civil lawsuit against the Catholic Church in Guam, Apuron and father Louis Brouillard over child sexual abuse. They are represented by attorney David Lujan.
Three of the men, now in their 50s, were altar boys in the 1970s under Apuron, who was a pastor at the time. They allege Apuron molested them during sleepovers.
The fourth man, now in his 70s, was a student and former altar boy in the 1950s when he said Brouillard sexually molested him. Brouillard, 95, admitted to The Associated Press in August that he may have molested 20 boys during his time in Guam.
"It is each victim's hope that the filing of the lawsuits will bring positive changes in the lives of all victims of abuse resulting in a cleansing and healing of decades-old feelings of fear, resentment, shame, hatred, bitterness, and blaming of oneself, and restore each victims dignity and respect," Lujan said in a statement released by his office on Tuesday.
Guam passed a law in September lifting time restrictions of civil lawsuits against alleged perpetrators and their institutions on child molestation cases.