HAGATNA, Guam — Members of the Catholic church in Guam are reacting with devastation to the accusations that Archbishop Anthony Apuron sexually abused young boys decades ago, but they're saying they're still resilient in their faith.
"Everybody's talking about it. It's causing a lot of mistrust, anger, and pointing fingers. It's devastating," said Patricia Perry, 73.
"We're neighbors. We grew up together. It's very conflicting to believe anything," Perry said. "I just can't see the archbishop doing those things."
Pope Francis on Monday named Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai to take over the Hagatna archdiocese after abuse allegations against Apuron resurfaced in recent weeks. A church deacon publicly accused Apuron of keeping the archdiocese's sex abuse policy weak to protect himself.
In a prayer meeting with clergy and faithful in a packed church on Thursday, Hon sought cooperation and said he was following the Holy Father's instructions to restore unity, harmony and stability in the local church. Apuron will continue to hold his title, but any decisions are removed from him, Hon said.
"There are different issues from different groups and we have to address them," Hon said. "But if these issues are addressed in a climate of serenity, and prayer, resolutions can be better accepted by all."
Apuron has denied the allegations and insisted he's a victim of a campaign to oust him. He signed a decree on the eve of his demotion prohibiting associating with Catholic groups who are critical of his leadership. But Hon told The Associated Press he wouldn't enforce that decree.
The group Concerned Catholics of Guam, which has been critical of Apuron, will continue protesting until Apuron is removed from his post, said Tim Rohr, a Catholic blogger.
"His guilt is irrefutable. There is no question," Rohr said.
Concerned Catholics of Guam had taken out full-page ads in both major Guam newspapers asking victims of sex abuse to call so that they don't have to suffer in silence. In recent weeks, three victims and their families have come forward to accuse the archbishop of sexual assault while they were minors in the 1970s, Rohr said.
Father Jeff San Nicolas, principal of Father Duenas Memorial School, said he was hopeful after hearing Hon's plans to unify the church at the prayer meeting.
"The truth will prevail is how I see it," Perry said. "I will never leave the cathedral. I will never leave my Catholic church."