News Analysis

Even after the Apuron verdict, there’s still a transparency problem

Apuron maintains his innocence (CNS)

The case of the former Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron is now closed. Nearly 10 years after allegations of abuse of minors surfaced against the long-serving prelate of the Pacific island archdiocese, a Vatican court has upheld his conviction and confirmed the penal sentence against him.

Apuron is deprived of his office, permanently exiled from the archdiocese and perpetually prohibited from using the insignia of a Catholic bishop.

Compared with other high-profile cases, that punishment appears to be a slap on the wrist. Though the crimes of which he is guilty are some of the same kind as those which saw the former Archbishop of Washington, DC, Theodore McCarrick, expelled from the clerical state, Apuron is still a cleric and still at liberty.

The statement released last week by the Press Office of the Holy See was the first to confirm that Apuron had been found guilty of “crimes against the Sixth Commandment” involving minors.

There is a further wrinkle. Returning to Rome from Dublin last year, Pope Francis discussed the Apuron case. “I decided,” Francis said, “because it’s a very difficult case, to take the privilege that I have of taking on the appeal myself and not sending it to the council of appeal that does its work with all the priests.” Pope Francis went on to say: “I took it upon myself, and made a commission of canonists that are helping me – and they told me that when I get back, after a maximum of a month, a recommendation will be made so I can make a judgment.” That was in August 2018.

The statement the Press Office released last week said, “On 7 February 2019, the Tribunal of Second Instance upheld the sentence of First Instance finding the Archbishop guilty of delicts against the Sixth Commandment with minors.” So, who handled the appeal? The interim director of the Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, was not available to discuss the question with the Catholic Herald.

During the in-flight presser out of Dublin, Pope Francis also said: “You take the recommendations of madre amorevole [the 2016 motu proprio establishing norms for the removal of diocesan bishops for negligence] and you make [a commission of judges] for each bishop.” He continued: “Rather many bishops have been judged.” The Pope made that statement in the middle of a somewhat technical answer to a query. It was also the day that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s “testimony” hit the press. So, it flew under the radar. Exactly which bishops have been judged is, however, an outstanding question.

It will be difficult for the Pope and his lieutenants in the Vatican to convince people they are serious about responsibility, accountability, and transparency – the buzzwords of the recent child protection summit at the Vatican – if they cannot detail which bishops have been subject to process.