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.”
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103