VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Monday named a special administrator for the Catholic Church on the Pacific territory of Guam after its archbishop was accused of sexually abusing young boys and of keeping church abuse policies weak to protect himself.
The archdiocese of Agana in the U.S. territory said last week it had hired a law firm and independent investigator to look into the allegations against Archbishop Anthony Apuron and how abuse cases were handled by his church.
On Monday, Francis named Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, the No. 2 official in the Vatican's mission office, as "apostolic administrator" for Agana. Apostolic administrators are named to run dioceses or archdioceses temporarily in the pope's name, usually pending the nomination of a new bishop.
Apuron, who technically remains in his post, has vigorously denied allegations he sexually abused an altar boy and a now-deceased son of an Arizona woman in the 1970s, when he was a priest. The allegations came back to the fore last week after a church deacon accused Apuron of purposely keeping the archdioceses' sexual abuse policy weak to protect himself.
Deacon Steve Martinez, former coordinator of the group that reviewed sex abuse allegations for the local church, released letters he had written to Apuron starting in 2014 flagging problems in the church's policy. He told a press conference there was an inherent conflict since Apuron himself would decide when to pursue an investigation and whether to take action.
Martinez was removed from his post in 2014.
In response, the archdiocese threatened legal action against Martinez and accused him of incompetence, of spreading "malicious and intentionally false claims" and of conspiring to oust Apuron.
Francis' decision to effectively take over the Guam archdiocese came two days after he laid out the legal procedures to oust bishops for negligence if they botch investigating cases of sex abuse by their priests. For bishops themselves accused of sexual abuse, the procedures would follow the existing norms of a church investigation and sanction if found guilty.
It wasn't immediately clear what Apuron is being investigated for by the Vatican. The nomination of Hon as temporary administrator, though, is a clear indication that a final decision on Apuron's fate hasn't been reached, but that there were sufficiently serious grounds to warrant none other than the No. 2 official of the Vatican office in charge of the church in Guam to take over, pending the outcome of the investigation.