Vatican City, Aug 28, 2018 / 05:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis is personally considering the appeal of Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who was found guilty of certain unspecified accusations back in March.
On Sunday, during the press conference on the papal plane, Pope Francis was asked a question from an Irish journalist seeking for clarification on reports that he was “not favorable” to changing the Vatican tribunal inquiry process in abuse cases.
The question was in response to abuse survivor Marie Collins claiming that Pope Francis was opposed to the creation of a tribunal of inquiry on bishops and their accountability. Earlier in the week, Collins had called for changes to canon law that would permit zero-tolerance policies for those accused of abuse.
Pope Francis said that this was not exactly true, and that it was a complicated issue due to the “different cultures of the bishops that had to be judged.”
As an example of how he was open to changes, he brought up Apuron’s case. Apuron was accused of a multitude of offenses, including raping his nephew in 1989 or 1990. In March, Apuron was found guilty of “certain” charges and sentenced to be removed from office and forbidden from living in the archdiocese. He immediately filed an appeal.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not state the charges for which the archbishop was found guilty. Sources close to the case told CNA at the time that the archbishop was found guilty of a minority of the allegations leveled against him.
If the archbishop has been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, the penalty leveled against him is unusual – often a cleric found guilty of such crimes would be “laicized,” or removed from the clerical state, sources said.
Sources also noted that the archbishop has seemingly maintained his ecclesiastical faculties, and though restricted from residence in Guam, is apparently able to exercise ministry as a priest.
One expert suggested to CNA that the five-judge panel may have been divided on the archbishop’s guilt, which could explain the disparity between a guilty verdict and an unusually light sanction.
One source questioned whether pressure to quickly resolve the matter might have influenced the sentence.
The pope explained that in considering Apuron’s appeal, he is bypassing the traditional “giuria”–the council of bishops that make up a tribunal–and will be considering the appeal himself. This is because Apuron’s situation is a “very difficult case.”
Instead, Pope Francis said he “took it upon myself” and created a commission of canonists who will assist him with the case. This group will make a recommendation within the next month, in order for the pontiff to make a judgement.
“It is a complicated case, on one hand, but not difficult because the evidence is clear,” said Pope Francis.
“I cannot pre-judge, I await the report and then I will judge. I say that the evidence is clear because there is this evidence which led the first tribunal to the condemnation.”
After he was found guilty, Apuron released a statement insisting on his innocence and announcing his appeal.
“I have been informed of the conclusion of the first instance canonical trial against me. While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict,” he said.
“God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process,” the statement read.