VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Catholic archbishop of the U.S. island territory of Guam has been definitively convicted of sexual abuse of minors and removed from office, the Vatican said on Thursday in a ruling that advocates for abuse victims condemned as weak.
Anthony Apuron, who was accused of abusing three young men decades ago, was first convicted by a Vatican tribunal a year ago and had appealed. He has denied wrongdoing.
The tribunal of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith upheld the first verdict, a statement said.
Apuron, 73 and a native of Guam, was removed from office and prohibited from living on the island, even temporarily, the Vatican said.
He was not however, expelled from the priesthood and was allowed to keep the title of bishop, something which advocates for victims of abuse said they found shocking.
“It’s baffling that this decision took so long and that the penalties are not proportional to the crimes,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the U.S.-based abuse tracking group BishopAccountability.org.
“He sexually assaulted children and enabled many other priests to rape and molest children too. Under his watch, the Agana archdiocese became a place of torment for children.”
In a statement, Apuron said he was “deeply saddened” by the decision, adding “I believe that the facts and evidence presented demonstrated my total innocence.”
The allegations against Apuron first emerged in 2016 when one of the victims, a former altar boy, came forward when he was in his 50s and other victims followed.
The Vatican said the decision announced on Thursday was definitive and no longer could be challenged on appeal. Apuron had served as the island’s archbishop since 1986.
The Church’s credibility has been crushed in much of the world by abuse scandals in countries including Ireland, Chile, Australia, France, the United States and Poland. The Church has paid billions of dollars in damages to victims and forced parishes to close.
The scandals have reached the upper echelons of the Vatican itself with the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, jailed this month for six years for abusing boys in his native Australia. He had served as the Vatican treasurer and a member of the pope’s innermost council of cardinals until his conviction last year.
Other senior Church officials have been accused of knowingly covering up abuse, including the archbishop of Lyon who was convicted this year in France for failing to report abuse.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes, a former assistant bishop of Detroit, succeeds Apuron as archbishop of the island’s single archdiocese, Agana.
The archdiocese, which has been hit by a number of lawsuits by victims of abuse, has filed for reorganisation bankruptcy in the island’s U.S. district court.
Guam’s population of about 170,000 is predominantly Catholic.
Reporting By Philip Pullella, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean