Thursday, July 25, 2013

THE CHANCERY V GOFIGAN




On July 16, 2013, Fr. Paul Gofigan, Pastor of Santa Barbara Parish in Dededo, Guam, was given a letter by Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron: 1) demanding his resignation, 2) relieving him of his duties as Director of Vocations and Director of Diaconate Formation, and 3) releasing him from the Archdiocese to "go and look for a benevolent bishop" willing to accept him.

According to the letter, the Archbishop's actions were due to Fr. Gofigan's alleged disobedience in regards to an order apparently issued in 2011 by the Archdiocesan Vicar General (Msgr. David C. Quitugua), to Fr. Gofigan to terminate the employment of a worker known to be a registered sex offender.

The Archbishop accused Fr. Gofigan of causing "grave harm" to the parish by exposing his parishioners, "especially the youth" and the "children of a nearby school" to a "probable threat". He then accused Fr. Gofigan of bringing "grave, lasting and proven harm to the parish" and thereby demanded his resignation.

The Archbishop then publicly replaced Fr. Gofigan by issuing an Aviso in the "U Matuna", the official newspaper of the Archdiocese. The edition first appeared at Saturday evening Mass on July 20, 2013.

On July 20, 2013, Fr. Gofigan responded to the Archbishop's letter with a letter to his parishioners clarifying that he had indeed terminated the employee, who was a maintenance worker at the parish, upon the order of the Vicar General in 2011. He also clarified that the registered sex offender had committed his crime (the rape of an adult female) 32 years ago, had served his time in prison, had sought reconciliation with the church for himself and his family, and, though he was no longer employed, had continued to help with maintenance tasks when asked.

Fr. Gofigan went on to state that"the entire issue could have been cleared up" if they "simply had spoken" with him and done a "basic investigation." And rather than take the easy path and resign, he would take the much more difficult path and request a hearing. He also requested that his parishioners support the newly appointed parochial administrator (Fr. Dan Bien), and asked for prayers for himself and the archbishop.

Both letters and a news story is posted at the Pacific News Center website.

On Monday, July 22, 2013, the Archdiocese responded with a press release and stated as follows:
  • The Archbishop DID in fact speak directly to Father Paul. He and the Vicar General, Msgr. David C. Quitugua, spoke to Father Paul in a meeting July 16 as he was informed of the decision.
  • There WAS an investigation on the matter. Father Paul was informed of this in that same meeting and in the letter he received July 16. He was given an opportunity to respond.
The press release and a news story can be found at the Pacific News Center website here.

On Tuesday, July 23, Fr. Gofigan was contacted and interviewed by a local radio station (K57). During the interview, Fr. Gofigan again clarified that he had terminated the employee as ordered, that he had continued to receive the subject person and his family at the church and at the rectory on a pastoral basis, and that the person had continued to assist Fr. Gofigan and the parish when asked. 

He also reaffirmed that the registered sex offender had committed his crime 32 years ago, had served his prison sentence, had sought reconciliation with the church upon release, and in Fr. Gofigan's opinion, did not present a threat to anyone, and in fact had obtained a police clearance in order to first be employed at the parish in 2008. (Note: The sex offender registry was not established until 2010)

Fr. Gofigan also clarified that this person did not have keys to the parish, as alleged by the Archdiocese, but had been given keys by Fr. Gofigan to open the church on occasion when Fr. Gofigan was running late. 

Fr. Gofigan went on to state in the interview that he was pursuing the right to due process as afforded him by Church law (Canon law), and contested that he was not given the canonically required 15 days to respond to the accusations against him, but only "15 minutes" (on July 16), and that his position as pastor was "a canonical one", and, as such, required a canonical process to remove him, a process Fr. Gofigan says was not afforded him but a process he his now requesting.

The interview with Fr. Gofigan on K57 can be found here.

Because the Archdiocesan press release of July 22 had emphasized the danger posed by the subject person to a "school full of children...in very close proximity to the parish", Fr. Gofigan sent out his own press release on July 24 clarifying the autonomy of the school from the parish and stated that neither he nor anyone else on his staff had access to the school outside the normal security procedures established by the school. He also addressed the current status of the subject person as follows
The person who was terminated in 2011 does not possess keys to the Church and its facilities. That person and spouse as well as their children are parishioners of Santa Barbara and have frequented Santa Barbara church and its facilities many times for Mass, functions, and other activities happening at the church and its facilities.
He then stated:
In my refusal to resign as pastor, I am requesting that the Archbishop performs his duties and obligations in accordance with the teachings and laws of the Church. 
The full press release and news story is posted at the Pacific News Center website here.

Related links:
Code of Canon Law: The Procedure in the Removal and Transfer of Pastors (Cann. 1740-1752)
Dededo Priest Asked to Resign - KUAM, July 22, 2013
Archdiocese Responds to Priest Replacement - KUAM, July 22, 2013
Parishioners disagree with Archbishop's position - KUAM, July 23, 2013
Archdiocese says parish priest failed to fire known sex offender - Pacific Daily News, July 23, 2013
Pastor refuses to resign - Marianas Variety, July 23, 2013
Priest to initiate litigation rather than resign - Marianas Variety, July 24, 2013

My comments: 
The following was posted as a comment to the Pacific Daily News Story: Archdiocese says parish priest failed to fire known sex offender.
No one is questioning the right of the Archbishop to protect children or parishioners in general from known sex offenders. Fr. Paul terminated the man when he was told to. The issue now is not the termination of the employee but the termination of Fr. Paul. Pastors have a canonical position and canonical procedure must be followed for the removal of pastors.       
Fr. Paul's position is that procedure (similar to due process) was not followed and his canonical rights as a pastor were violated. Canon Law (Church law) gives him the right to a hearing and to be represented by a canon lawyer.  
Few people know to what extent the Catholic Church has gone to extend canonical (legal) protections to both priests and laity and to provide a path for "hierarchical recourse", a recourse that can lead all the way to the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the equivalent of the Supreme Court. The fact that it has done this is testimony to the Church's awareness of the abuse of sheep by its shepherds. 
In this case, Fr. Paul was not just removed from his position as pastor, his faculties to say Mass were revoked and he was "invited" to leave the island. With the accusation of "harboring a sex offender" over his head, he would have nowhere to go. No bishop would take him and he would no longer be able to function as a priest. 
Fr. Paul's contention is that this was an abuse of power and his life has been destroyed. Whether that is truly the case is what we will be decided before a tribunal in what will be similar to a court case.


6 comments:

  1. I think the same thing happened to the Agustian Recollects who were a threat because each had been the best parish priests the island ever had. The various parishoners ran to various parishes to find a priest that fit their spiritual needs. If you think the Catholic Church is doing well, drive around and check out the full Christian churches....I could name a few but think the reader knows which flourish the most. Of course, it's an option for Fr. Gofigan to ask for refuge with the Episcopal Church...

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  2. Yes. Non-Catholic churches are flourishing on Guam and they are full of (who else?) ex-Catholics. The exodus has been going on for two decades. Guam, a once proud and thoroughly Catholic island, has become a mecca for every conceivable denomination. "Happy hunting grounds" as I have termed it elsewhere. Kudos to the non-Christian churches. Shame on us.

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  3. You make me not wanna be Catholic anymore.

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  4. The Holy Father has asked seminarians, and I'm sure priests and bishops to be fathers to people. I think he means to be kind and gracious respectful to people and win people into the fold. So may we ask why archbishop Apuron acts as he does he is not a father to the priests and people of Guam.

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    Replies
    1. i believe It would be a different story if he didn't run to the media.

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