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Church chancellor talks sexual misconduct reporting mandate

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Every archdiocese across the globe must now report and investigate any allegations of sexual misconduct. It is the latest move by the Vatican to address a child sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic church, including here in Guam.

The new decree by Pope Francis is meant to hold Bishops directly accountable for sexual abuse cases says Archdiocese of Agana Chancellor Father Ron Richards.

"What this has added to as well is the reporting of bishops, which clearly we here on Guam are personally affected by with former Archbishop Apuron and everything that's gone on with that," he said.

More than 200 child sexual abuse cases have been filed against local clergy including Apuron himself. And Father Richards concedes that for victims this may be too little, too late.

"People can say that and that's a legitimate argument, right," Richards said. "But it was done, and it's a good thing that it happened. Did it happen too late? Yes, but it happened. So I think we should embrace the fact that this is now mandated."

We also spoke with Concerned Catholics of Guam President David Sablan, who says while they generally support the latest decree, they want to make sure it doesn't just stay in-house, Father Richards says it won't.

"If someone comes forward with something on Guam, we're gonna go to the civil authorities with it," Richards responded. "And even if it happened twenty years ago, because we'll let the civil authorities decide if there should be civil prosecution, we're not gonna make that decision. We'll give it to them and they say it's outside the statute of limitations, there's nothing we can do, that's fine, but from an ecclesiastical point of view. There's stuff we can do."

Sablan also worries about the church's support for the accused, and the perception it gives off to potential victims.

"We can't just cut them off and they have no source of income, they're living on the street, and they don't have anywhere to live," Richards said. And I realize that's a difficult thing for people to understand. You haven't tried this person, it's an accusation at this point. We absolutely would put them on administrative leave they would be on leave. They wouldn't be allowed any active ministry while the process is going on."

He says many of the safeguards against sexual abuse were implemented when Archbishop Michael Byrnes arrived two years ago, but he admits there may be many who still question the Church's resolve, and if its capable of policing itself.

"I would say someone who's skeptical is going to say no, and I can understand that, because the proof of what's gone on in the past doesn't lend to why should I believe you now that you've just written it down there, and I respect that," Richards said. "I can't speak for what happens all over the world, but I can speak for what's happening here on Guam, and that there is no intention of hiding anything. We have a review board here, which the moto propio allows for everything it does. We have that here and they are informed of everything. And to make sure that things are taken care of, and children are protected. That's their focus."

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