- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) - The new leader of the Catholic church in Guam will meet with his brother priests as his first order of business on Monday as he attempts to heal this U.S. territory rocked by allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, even the current archbishop.

“I have been praying for those who have brought forward the allegations, who brought forward their own experience. I have great compassion for that,” Archbishop Michael Byrnes, 58, of Detroit told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I’ve been praying for them.”

Byrnes has been sent by the Vatican to replace current Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron on an administrative basis. Apuron, 71, has been Guam’s highest Catholic leader for 30 years but faces a church trial over multiple allegations of sex abuse of altar boys in the 1970s. He denies the charges, and has not been criminally charged.

Byrnes said he had a conversation with Apuron and knows he is somewhere in the United States. “The tribunal investigation and trial of the archbishop has already begun,” Byrnes said.

Byrnes will have the right to succeed Apuron if he resigns, retires or is removed. Byrnes was auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit before Pope Francis appointed him to the Guam post.

While Apuron remains the archbishop in title, Byrnes said he has already been exercising pastoral responsibility for the archdiocese, and that he will continue to include Apuron in his Eucharistic prayers.

“Irrespective of guilt or innocence, we should always pray for each other, especially in difficult times,” Byrnes said.

Several civil lawsuits have been filed against the church after the governor this year signed a bill lifting the statute of limitations to sue alleged abusers and institutions that supported them.

Byrnes wants to reach out to as many parishioners as possible in heavily Catholic Guam, located about 3,700 miles southwest of Honolulu. About 80 percent of the western Pacific island’s 160,000 residents are Catholic.

“I want to hear from the people of God on the island, what are their concerns, what are their hopes. In a time when there has been a kind of polarization because of the archbishop, then it becomes difficult for people because you have to choose,” he said.

“It’s not like a panacea or a quick fix but unless we bring all this to Jesus then we’re going to just be left to ourselves,” he said.

It will be a steep learning curve all around for Byrnes. He had never met anyone from Guam before being named to lead the Catholic church here, and the only thing he knew about the place was gleaned from World War II history books.

Byrnes will travel 15 time zones from Detroit to arrive on Guam on Monday, when he will participate in a day of recollection with Guam’s clergy.

Two liturgical celebrations are planned on Wednesday, including when he takes his oath of fidelity. Later that day, he will join parishioners as they begin nine days of masses honoring Guam’s patron saint, Santa Marian Kamalen, also known as Our Lady of Camarin.

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