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New archbishop cracking-down on clergy sex abuse

Posted: Apr 07, 2018 1:31 PM Updated:

He's the leader of Guam's faithful. Archbishop Michael Byrnes was appointed to the Archdiocese of Agana two years ago. At the time there were only a handful of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits. Though the count is now upwards of 160-lawsuits, he's worked tirelessly to prevent future cases. And his efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

He's the recipient of this year's Visionary Voice Award. Earlier this week, Archbishop Byrnes accepted the award during a proclamation signing to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center award recognizes those around the country who have committed to ending sexual violence. Why was Archbishop Byrnes nominated?

Clinical Psychologist and past Visionary Voice Award winner, Dr. Juan Rapadas, explained, saying, "With the aim to ensure transparency and accountability 0237 while addressing the issue of clergy sexual abuse on Guam, Archbishop Byrnes has facilitated review of and updates to the archdiocese policies on protecting our young people. He also initiated training of church workers and volunteers and has revived an independent review board on the investigation on alleged clergy abuse."

Archbishop Byrnes was appointed to the local Archdiocese two years ago at the height of scandal. His predecessor, suspended Archbishop Anthony Apuron, accused of clergy sexual abuse among other issues.

Dozens of other priests and other members of the Church also named and now represent the 160-plus lawsuits filed in the federal and local courts. "Safe environment is really about building awareness for people and empowering them to address - if they see signs of neglect, sexual assault, grooming behavior - they become aware through the VIRTUS program," he said. "VIRTUS just mainly walks through scenarios - what do you think a person should do in this case.

"What's a predator likely to do in a certain situation? And that just helps inform the people to be alert. Okay, I've seen this kind of activity. Maybe I should talk to somebody about it."

Already 2,000 church staffers, volunteers, and Catholic school educators have completed the VIRTUS online training with 250 more registered to start.

VIRTUS as well as a Task Force for the Protection of Minors educates on mandatory reporting laws.

Already, one Bishop Baumgartner Memorial School teacher has been removed from the classroom as a result of the trainings. "It works in our parishes. It works in our schools. We already experienced it in one of our schools 0224 where a young person alerted someone. It was taken care of," the teacher said. "The task force training had already gone through and the school was ready to deal effectively, as it turns out, with the allegation - they took it seriously. They acted on it. And they took care of it."

Registering for VIRTUS is mandatory upon hiring or volunteering for the Church. The program also triggers a background check.

Feedback, so far has been, as he said, "Good. They walk away feeling, 'Okay, I know what to do.'"

And the discussion it starts long overdue. "People just started talking. They were alert. Yu know, in our parish, the altar servers are all by themselves. Maybe we should do something about that," he said.

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