19 Apr 2010

Guam's Catholic Church urged to be more transparent over child abuse

11:39 am on 19 April 2010

The vice-speaker of Guam's legislature says fellow senators will find it hard not to support his bill that would require Catholic church officials to report suspected child abuse to authorities.

The bill has been introduced as new revelations of many historical cases of child sexual abuse by clergy are rocking the Catholic church worldwide.

Johnny Blades reports

Guam's Archdiocese of Agana is yet to respond to questions from the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, why a local priest was recently defrocked.

However a SNAP representative last year visited Guam to meet confidentially with alleged victims and has spoken of the critical need for more transparency on sexual abuse by the territory's clergy.

The vice-speaker, Benjamin J. Cruz, says his ten years as a family court judge taught him that the penitent privilege of priests is often misused.

"And the one thing that always drove me up the wall was to find out that abuse within the family had been ongoing within the family for generations and in a lot of these cases, and in most of them, it was the little boy or girl who had initially approached the priest to say that something was happening at home... they were looking for pastoral assistance from the priest. But it was not reported to the authorities by the priest because the perpetrators came in and confessed to the priest, and then the priest wouldn't be able to say anything."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese, Deacon Jeff Barcinas, insists all priests and clergy members are already complying with the current law about reporting abuse.

But one who begs to differ is local theologian and former seminarian, John Diaz.

I was eighth grade when an older seminarian took me into a rectory and molested me over and over again inside the church here in Guam. There are so many people on this island who have had to deal with that sexual abuse issue.

He says he took the matter to officials within the church:

They did not report this information to the police. They decided to do it all within their church confines. Enough is enough. These issues have to be brought up so that justice may prevail. Our church is in a turmoil period right now.

Senator Judith Guthertz says Senator Cruz's attempt to close a loophole is worth supporting.

Guam is a unique place like many islands and historically there are certain things you don't report to the police - you take care of it as a family etc... So it's possible that he is concerned that there is not full disclosure when these kinds of incidents occur and he wants to make it mandatory. I don't have a problem with it. The church might have a problem with it but if they're sincere and honest with everybody then they shouldn't object to it.

While his recent civil union bill stalled in the legislature after meeting strong opposition from Guam's Catholic community, Senator Cruz is confident senators will support him this time.

You might be able to say that, politically, I don't want to support civil unions but it would be political suicide for any member of the legislature to say that they're not in support of protecting children and that they'd much rather protect paedophile priests.

Senator Benjamin J. Cruz ending that report by Johnny Blades.