Catholic Church in Guam gets new leader while former archbishop faces sexual assault allegations

In this Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 photo provided by Archdiocese of Detroit, Bishop Michael Jude Byrnes poses for a photo at the Archdiocese of Detroit Chancery in Detroit.

The new leader of the Catholic Church in Guam will immediately assume all responsibilities in the archdiocese while its suspended archbishop faces a church trial for allegedly sexually abusing altar boys, a church leader said Tuesday.

Pope Francis on Monday named Bishop Michael Jude Byrnes, the auxiliary bishop of Detroit, as the new leader of the Guam archdiocese.

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At a news conference Tuesday, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, who is temporarily running the church, said Francis gave Byrnes special rights to carry out all the duties as archbishop effective immediately.

Guam had been without a full-time leader since Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 71, was relieved of his duties after several former altar boys accused him of child sexual abuse. He is facing a canonical trial in the Vatican.

Apuron said in a statement issued Wednesday that he has "remained on retreat while working with the authorities in the Vatican to establish my innocence."

He also said that he welcomed Byrnes appointment, calling it an "answer to my requests for help in the governance of the island at this time."

Byrnes is expected to arrive at the end of November, and will lead parishioners on the closing of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Guam diocese.

"With my brother priests and deacons, with the catechists and other pastoral workers, and above all with the spiritual gifts of the people of God, I trust we will persevere in faith, hope and love, and will exercise the 'wisdom from above' to meet these challenges," Byrnes said in a statement.

Hon will remain on the island and assist Byrnes with a smooth transition.

Byrnes, who was ordained a priest in 1996 and elevated to bishop in 2011, has also worked in pastoral administration and seminary teaching, and served on an archdiocesan Presbyteral Council. The Detroit archdiocese's website says he played a key role in evangelization efforts.

Apuron has denied the allegations and refused to step down. He has not been charged criminally. The allegations got little attention when they first came to light in 2014 but resurfaced this summer after a deacon accused Apuron of keeping the archdiocese's sexual abuse policy weak to protect himself.

Also on Tuesday, a lawyer for four former altar boys filed a new civil lawsuit against Guam's church, Apuron and father Louis Brouillard over child sexual abuse allegations.

Three of the men, now in their 50s, were altar boys in the 1970s under Apuron, who was a pastor at the time. They allege Apuron molested them during sleepovers.

The fourth man, now in his 70s, was a student and former altar boy in the 1950s when he said Brouillard sexually molested him. Brouillard, 95, admitted to The Associated Press in August that he may have molested 20 boys during his time in Guam.

Guam passed a law in September lifting time restrictions of civil lawsuits against alleged perpetrators and their institutions on child molestation cases.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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