Guam’s Catholics reckon with decades of sex abuse

Walter Denton wanted to grow up to be just like Father Tony Apuron, until the night he says the parish priest raped him in a church rectory. The pastor sent the sobbing 13-year-old altar boy away with a warning: “If you say anything to anybody, no one will believe you.”

He told his mother, but says she accused him of making it up. He then told another priest, but that man did nothing and later turned out to be an abuser himself.

For decades, Apuron oversaw a culture of impunity where abusers went unpunished.

Now, thousands of pages of court documents, along with extensive interviews, tell a story of systemic abuse dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013.

The Archbishop stymied all efforts that could have exposed his past. It wasn’t until Mr. Denton and other victims spoke out in 2016 that the Vatican finally suspended Apuron, nearly 40 years after Mr. Denton first reported his rape.

“I knew how powerful this guy was,” said Mr. Denton, a former U.S. Army sergeant. “He believed he was untouchable, more powerful than the governor. But it was me against him, and I had nothing to lose. I knew I wasn’t the only one.”

Restrictions on suing the church were eased only after Apuron was suspended. Since then at least 223 lawsuits have been filed alleging abuse by 35 clergymen, teachers and Boy Scout leaders tied to the Catholic Church. In response, the Guam archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, estimating at least $45 million in liabilities, and survivors have until Aug. 15 to file for a financial settlement.

Seven men have accused Apuron in lawsuits of sexual assaults they endured as boys, including his own nephew. The Archbishop, now 73, insists all his accusers are liars. But in trial last year, the Vatican found him guilty of sex crimes against children, removing him from public ministry. He remains a bishop, receives a monthly $1,500 stipend.

To this day, no member of the Catholic clergy on Guam has ever been prosecuted for a sex crime