BALTIMORE (CNS) — New Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, who before the end of the year will take up his new assignment as coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, has a daunting task ahead of him.
For one thing, he has never been to Guam, thousands of miles and several time zones away from the Archdiocese of Detroit, where he was born and raised and has served for the past 20 years as a priest and auxiliary bishop.
For another, he will be stepping into what could charitably be called a delicate situation. For the past six months, the archdiocese, where more than 80 percent of Guam residents are Catholic, has been riven by accusations against its island-born archbishop, Anthony S. Apuron, that he abused altar boys 30 to 40 years ago, when he was a priest.
Archbishop Apuron, currently under a Vatican investigation, has refused to resign. And Archbishop Byrnes has been given “full authority” to run the archdiocese, he told Catholic News Service in a Nov. 14 interview at the end of the first day of the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore.
“My first job is to listen,” said Archbishop Byrnes, who was named to his new post by Pope Francis Oct. 31. He added he also is aware that he will have to bring about “healing to those who said they have been abused.”
His appointment came several weeks after Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, apostolic administrator of the Agana Archdiocese, requested the Vatican remove Archbishop Apuron and name a successor.
Healing will be spread throughout the archdiocese. “I have heard there are protests outside the cathedral with signs saying, ‘Defrock Apuron,'” Archbishop Byrnes said. “At the same time, there are those who are saying, ‘No, I think he’s innocent.'”
The phenomenon is not uncommon. “It’s the same thing in a parish when a priest leaves. People have to take a stand, or they think they do,” Archbishop Byrnes.
His assignment is permanent, he told CNS. “I’m here until I retire or until the pope says he needs me elsewhere,” said the 58-year-old prelate. A coadjutor archbishop becomes head of an archdiocese upon the resignation or death of the current archbishop.
Archbishop Byrnes said during the bishops’ assembly Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington had pulled him aside briefly. “He was a great help,” he said.
In 1986, the Vatican ordered Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, then head of the Seattle Archdiocese, to turn over authority in several areas of his ministry to then-Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Wuerl while the Vatican investigated complaints of the archbishop’s leadership over some liturgical concerns and lack of clarity on some Catholic teaching on homosexuality and on contraceptives. The archbishop’s faculties were restored in 1987.
Archbishop Byrnes said he has not talked with Archbishop Apuron, “but I did get an email from him, wishing me well. But it didn’t have a return address on it, so I couldn’t reply to him.”
He said he plans to leave in late November and arrive in Guam Nov. 30. Archbishop Byrnes will spend a few weeks on the island, then return to Detroit to gather more of his things.
“I’m going to miss my friends,” he said. “I’m going to miss winter.”
He’s also going to miss the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well. Even though Guam is a U.S. territory, it falls under the geographical jurisdiction of a Pacific Rim conference of Catholic bishops. “I don’t even know where they meet,” Archbishop Byrnes said. “I’ve got a lot to learn.”