Father Anthony Apuron, the former archbishop of the Catholic Church of Guam, has been accused of molesting children and protecting a culture of sexual abuse that endured on the island for decades.

A total of seven men have filed lawsuits accusing Apuron of molesting them as children, according to The Associated Press. Mark Apuron, the former bishop’s nephew, said that his uncle forced himself onto him, but that he avoided speaking about the incident because he didn’t think anyone would believe him.

Another man, Walter Denton, now 55, says that Apuron sexually assaulted him on church property when he was only 13-years-old. According to The Associated Press, Apuron warned the young Denton: “If you say anything to anybody, no one will believe you.”

“The archbishop, now 73, insists all his accusers are liars. But in a secret church trial last year, the Vatican found Apuron guilty of sex crimes against children, removing him from public ministry and effectively exiling him from Guam.” Despite being removed from public ministry, Apuron is still a bishop “and receives a monthly $1,500 stipend from the church,” the news agency notes.

The Associated Press has also reviewed thousands of pages of court documents and concluded that the Guam archdiocese engaged in systemic abuse “dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013” and consisting of “a pattern of repeated collusion by predator priests, with abuse that spanned generations and reached all the way to the very top of the church hierarchy.”

One church official in the archdiocese, Father Louis Brouillard, has been accused of sexually assaulting at least 132 men and women over the course of three decades beginning as early as 1948. Several years before his death in 2018, Brouillard confessed to abusing nearly two dozen children.

Another man, Father Adrian Cristobal, a senior church official close to Apuron, has been accused in lawsuits of sexually assaulting boys and young men over more than three decades and paying them to keep quiet with money stolen from the church.

Apuron has also engaged in efforts to prevent survivors of sexual assault by members of the clergy from seeking justice.

When B.J. Cruz, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and then-vice speaker of the Guam Senate, tried to introduce legislation to “lift the statute of limitations on child sex abuse lawsuits” in 2010, Apuron used his political clout to lobby against it.

Although the bill passed, senators sympathetic to the church amended the bill to make it more difficult for survivors to come forward, such as requiring plaintiffs to pay the church’s legal fees should they fail to prove their case.

No survivors came forward while the law was in effect.

In total, 35 clergymen, teachers and boy scout leaders on the island have been accused in lawsuits, leading the archdioceses to file for bankruptcy protection. As such, any survivors who wish to file a financial claim against the church only have until Aug. 15, 2019.

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