For the most part, the Catholic faithful of Guam are anxious to show the new Apostolic Administrator welcome and cooperation. It's just that, many of those same people are just as anxious for the new Apostolic Administrator to give them a sign.
The demonstration this past Sunday in front of the Cathedral could certainly serve as a metaphor for this anxiousness. The demonstrators were quick to stop their picketing and assemble at the foot of the steps of the Cathedral when Archbishop Hon, the new Administrator, came out to greet them.
However, after the brief greeting, Hon disappeared into the church and the demonstrators went back to picketing. Apparently there was no sign. In fact, many of the same demonstrators showed up a few hours later to continue picketing in front of the hotel where Hon joined members of the Neocatechumenal Way for their annual seminary gala.
It has already been noted that a tremendous opportunity for Hon to offer us a sign was tragically lost. Whether it was intentional or not, the image of Walter Denton reaching towards Hon, asking the priest next to Hon to meet him, and Hon turning away from Denton and disappearing into the church serves as a mega-metaphor for a church leadership which has turned its back on victims for decades.
Yesterday, Archbishop Hon issued a "Message," calling for patience. He has also said, when acknowledging the accusations against Apuron that a solution to these accusations must be found in a "climate of serenity": "...that's why we come to pray, so that a better solution can be found. A better decision can be made in a climate of serenity."
The challenge that we have is that Hon's approach does not comport with the message of the man who sent him here, Pope Francis.
In February 2015, Pope Francis released a letter to all the world's bishops directing them to "back 'zero tolerance' on sex abuse." He said that: “Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children," and "They should also know that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home."
But from the man Pope Francis sent to Guam amidst some of the most horrid accounts of sexual molestation against a sitting prelate (Apuron), we do not feel the same sense of urgency Pope Francis appears to want his bishops to have. Indeed, Francis goes on to say: "Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern."
This is our problem. Not only does Archbishop Hon not appear to be doing what Pope Francis has instructed - making this problem a "priority," he even appears to be doing exactly what Apuron did (calling the victims liars), albeit more softly, by publicly calling in to question the veracity of the accusations.
At the prayer vigil for unity called for by Hon last Saturday night at the Cathedral, one attendee personally reported:
"A Hon's homily was difficult to follow, he spoke of cases he was involved with where bishops were accused. One case a bishop was accused by a woman of having relations. The woman recanted after sometime (said she was jealous) this made the neo priest and Sr. Marian react like 'oh my there is hope'".
Even if there are false accusations, and there certainly are, sharing this account in the midst of the greatest scandal ever to rock this diocese - if not the whole island, calls into question Hon's ability to be faithful to what Pope Francis has publicly and insistently called for: ZERO TOLERANCE.
At the same event, KUAM also reported: "Archbishop Hon acknowledged there may be those suffering as a result of the accusations and asks the church to approach the issues in a climate of serenity and pray for unity."
THERE MAY BE THOSE SUFFERING?
Zero Tolerance means that Church leadership is REQUIRED to take action to protect and help the victims (even the alleged victims) FIRST, and ask questions later. The best Hon can come up with is that there "may be those suffering." Watching Doris Concepcion place her son's ashes in a crypt yesterday is not a "may be." Watching a grown man like Walter Denton break down time after time as he recounts what Apuron did to him 40 years ago is not a "may be." Watching Roy Quintanilla quietly tremble as he shared a similar account is not a "may be."
While we can certain allow for a legal determination as to whether or not the accusations are in fact true, there is no question that there are people SUFFERING. There is no "may be" here.
We do not want to have to question Archbishop Hon. But he makes it very difficult for us when his public statements - some of which like the above call into question the integrity of the victims - are in stark contrast to Pope Francis' direct instruction to his bishops when regarding allegations of sex abuse against clergy: "...priority must not be given to any other kind of concern."
We know for a fact that if Apuron had been a mere priest and not a bishop, he would have been immediately removed, and if it had been a non-neo priest, he wouldn't have been sent off to Qatar (like Luis Camacho). He, like Fr. Paul and Msgr. James before him, would have been drug out into the street and publicly and repeatedly flogged.
But then Apuron is a neo, and as far as we can tell, is being hidden and protected, just like Luis Camacho before him.
There will be a public hearing soon on the bill to lift the statute of limitations on past sex crimes. If the Vatican and Archbishop Hon will NOT address this matter, WE WILL.