Pope Francis has named a new co-adjutor bishop for the embattled Archdiocese of Guam as Archbishop Anthony Apuron faces a church trial over his role in the sexual abuse of minors on the Pacific island.
Bishop Michael Jude Byrnes, currently an auxiliary bishop in Detroit, is moving to the U.S. territory as a coadjutor bishop. Coadjutors have succession rights when bishops resign, retire or are removed.
Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 70, has been accused of molesting at least five altar boys in the 1960s and ’70s. He has denied the allegations, has not been criminally charged and has refused calls to step down. However, he is facing a canonical trial in Rome for his role in the Guam sexual abuse scandal.
In announcing the appointment, the Vatican noted that Byrnes would serve as co-adjutor with “special faculties”. The release didn’t specify what those faculties would include but Vatican experts believe that Byrnes will be given the authority to investigate the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese and possibly become the permanent archbishop sooner rather than later.
Byrnes was ordained a priest in 1996 and a bishop in 2011. Prior to his episcopal ordination, he served as Vice Rector of Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary. During his tenure as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Byrnes suspended a Catholic priest for not reporting an incident of sexual abuse in 2012. In announcing the suspension, Byrnes wrote a letter to parishioners which noted, “…the archdiocese knows enough to question why Fr. Cooney, having been informed of the alleged conduct, failed in his response to the victim in promptly reporting what he knew to law enforcement authorities and to provide a safe environment for children and young people on parish property.”
The Guam legislature has voted to remove the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases and the Archdiocese may be facing sexual abuse lawsuits as a result of the behavior of priests and the Archbishop.