maye-e wongComment

Guam survivors say clergy sex abuse ruined their lives

maye-e wongComment
Guam survivors say clergy sex abuse ruined their lives

One by one, they file into a darkened room to have their pictures taken, gracious while loosening their grip on long-held secrets. Each brings along a childhood photo of himself at around the age when they say they were abused by Catholic clergy.

They’re men now, some gray and balding, others who have just filled out in the face a little. Yet they still resemble their boyhood photos. For some, it has been 50 or 60 years since that child laughed with innocence intact. The photos are painful reminders of a happier time, or of what might have been a happier life.

Their lawsuits are among at least 223 that have been filed alleging abuse by 35 clergymen, teachers and Boy Scout leaders tied to the Catholic Church. In response, the Guam archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, estimating at least $45 million in liabilities, and survivors have until Aug. 15 to file for a financial settlement.

Melvin Duenas, 58, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 11 years old, the age when he says he was sexually molested by two priests. Until then, he says, he looked at priests as God himself.

“I tried to commit suicide,” he says. “I was so upset at God. I tried to numb my thoughts and started drinking. I was a drug addict by the age of 15. A lot of darkness, it just follows me.”

For Troy Torres, 38, it’s been nearly a quarter century of questioning not his abuser but himself, for what he sees as a lack of the courage to stop his accuser. Torres says he was sexually molested at the age of 13.

“Why wasn’t I brave enough?” he asks. “I always thought it was my fault.”

Another man, now 58, who gives only his initials, C.M.V., looks at a photo of his 11-year-old self and shakes his head.

“I try not to think about it,” he says, before becoming too overcome with emotion to continue. He thanks me for taking his picture and somberly walks out.

Each of these men now bravely sits before the camera, wanting to be heard and believed — even if it’s too hard to get the words out.

 

Mark Apuron, 45, sits behind a photo of himself when he was 15 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Mark Apuron, 45

"Everything happened so fast, but that one second, for me, it never stops."

Mark sits beside a photo of himself when he was 15 years old, the age when he says he was raped by his uncle, former Archbishop Anthony Apuron at the rectory, in Hagatna, Guam, Monday, May 13, 2019. "Everything happened so fast," he recalls. "But that one second, for me, it never stops." He never found the right words to tell his parents what happened. "I didn't think I would be believed," he said, tearing up. "I thought I was the only one." Anthony Apuron denies the allegations, which are detailed in a lawsuit.


 

Walter Denton, 55, stands behind a photo of himself when he was about 12 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Walter Denton, 55

"He took everything from me."

Walter stands behind a photo of himself when he was about 12 years old, in Hagatna, Guam, Monday, May 13, 2019. Denton says he was raped at age 13 by then-Archbishop of Agana, Anthony Apuron. "This whole thing changed my whole life," said Denton. "He took everything from me. From that day forward my demeanor changed. I break down, I hurt everyday and I still hurt. It's something that I'll never get over." Apuron denies the allegations, which are detailed in a lawsuit.


 

Roland Sondia, 57, holds a photo of himself when he was about 15 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Roland Sondia, 57

"I keep asking myself why me?"

Roland holds a photo of himself when he was about 15 years old, the age when he says he was sexually abused by then Archbishop of Agana, Anthony Apuron, in Hagatna, Guam, Friday, May 10, 2019. "I keep asking myself why me," said Sondia. "I keep thinking back to what I could have done to make him want to approach me. I did a good job of hiding it. It's something I'll take to my grave." Apuron denies the allegations, which are detailed in a lawsuit.


 

Ramon De Plata, 65, stands behind a photo of himself when he was about 10 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Ramon De Plata, 65

“Even now, I'm always on guard.”

Ramon stands behind a photo of himself when he was about 10 years old, the age when he says he walked into Father Antonio Cruz's bedroom and saw Cruz and his protege, seminarian Anthony Apuron, engaged in sex acts with a boy from his school, Monday, May 13, 2019, in Hagatna, Guam. "He was calling me to join them," recounted De Plata. "It really messed me up growing up. I became hostile in school. I didn't trust my teachers anymore. I was picking on other kids, harassing them, calling them names. ... Even now, I'm always on guard." Cruz is dead, and Apuron denies the allegations.


 

Troy Torres, 38, holds a photo of himself when he was about 12 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Troy Torres, 38

“It just happened so quickly and at the same time not quick enough. And I always thought it was my fault.”

Troy holds a photo of himself when he was about 12 years old, in Hagatna, Guam, Saturday, May 11, 2019. Torres says in a lawsuit he was sexually molested at age 13 by Ray Caluag, the music and religion teacher at Saint Anthony Catholic School where he attended. "I wanted to say something to stop what I knew was wrong. I didn't and I was always trapped by that. Every time it happened after that I was trapped by this sense of guilt. I'd gone too far. I'd already done something so wrong, said Torres. "It just happened so quickly and at the same time not quick enough. And I always thought it was my fault. I always thought that I was a really bad person for not shouting out 'no get away from me. No don't do this.' Many times I questioned my courage. Why wasn't I brave enough?" The AP was unable to reach Caluag for comment. Videos on the internet show Caluag conducting a Catholic youth orchestra in the Philippines.


 

C.M.V., 58, sits behind a photo of himself when he was about 11 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

C.M.V., 58

"I try not to think about it."

A sexual abuse survivor who would only go by the initials C.M.V., 58, sits behind a photo of himself when he was about 11 years old, in Hagatna, Guam, Saturday, May 11, 2019. C.M.V. says in a lawsuit he was sexually molested between the ages of 9 and 13 by Monsignor Jose Ada Leon Guerrero, a priest at the time at Nino Perdido y Sagrada Familia Catholic Church where C.M.V. served as an altar boy. "I try not to think about it," said C.M.V. about his abuse before becoming too overcome with emotion to continue talking about it. Guerrero is now dead.


 

Anthony Vegafria, 59, sits behind a photo of himself when he was 13 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Anthony Vegafria, 59

"Sometimes I don't really want to think about it."

Anthony sits behind a photo of himself when he was 13 years old, the age when he says in a lawsuit he was sexually abused by Louis Brouillard, a Catholic priest and scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, in Hagatna, Guam, Monday, May 13, 2019. "Sometimes I don't really want to think about it," said Vegafria of the abuse. Vegafria says in a lawsuit he was abused between the ages of 12 and 15 by Brouillard on parish grounds while he served as altar boy and also on outings with the Boy Scouts. Brouillard has acknowledged abuse allegations and is now dead.


 

Melvin Duenas, 58, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 11 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Melvin Duenas, 58

"We looked at them as God himself.”

Melvin, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 11 years old, the age when he says in a lawsuit he was sexual abused by Tomas Camacho and Louis Brouillard, both Catholic priests at the churches where Duenas served as an altar boy, in Hagatna, Guam, Monday, May 13, 2019. "We were taught that when we see a priest we run over there and kneel down," said Duenas. "We looked at them as God himself. I always wanted to be a priest myself. I told my dad shortly after (the abuse happened) and he hit me and said 'don't ever talk about a priest like that.' I tried to commit suicide. I was so upset at God. I tried to numb my thoughts and started drinking. I was a drug addict by the age of 15. A lot of darkness, it just follows me." Camacho and Brouillard are now dead. Brouillard acknowledged abuse allegations before he died.


 

Leo Tudela. 75, looks up at a photo of himself when he was 13 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Leo Tudela, 75

"We're all human beings so there is always forgiveness but this person, I don't think God will forgive him.

Leo, 75, looks up at a photo of himself when he was 13 years old, the age when he says in a lawsuit he was sexually abused by Brother Mariano Laniyo while living in a monastery and later by Louis Brouillard, a Catholic priest and scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, in Hagatna, Guam, Monday, May 13, 2019. "We're all human beings so there is always forgiveness but this person, I don't think God will forgive him. I want to tell him right straight in his face, 'How could you do that to young boys? If that was your son would you do it?'" Laniyo and Brouillard are now dead. Brouillard acknowledged abuse allegations before he died.


 

Robby Perez, 48, in New Orleans on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 14 years old. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Robby Perez, 48

“It’s like you’re in the Mafia. You know there’s all kinds of unsavory things going on, but you don’t turn on your family.”

Robby, 48, in New Orleans on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 14 years old, the age when he says in a lawsuit he was sexually abused as an altar boy in Guam by David Anderson, a former priest now living in Hawaii. Perez says he endured five years of sexual abuse, never telling anyone. Toward the end, Perez says, he fell in love with the priest. But when he professed his feelings, Anderson ended their relationship, saying he had to put God first. “It’s part of being a good Catholic, protecting the church,” Perez said. “It’s like you’re in the Mafia. You know there’s all kinds of unsavory things going on, but you don’t turn on your family.” When reached by the AP, Anderson said, "I was young, the person was young... It's a long, long time ago."


 

Text from AP News story, Guam victims say clergy sex abuse ruined their lives by David Goldman

This photo essay runs with AP News Story, Guam’s Catholics reckon with decades of ‘horrific’ sex abuse by Michael Biesecker

Photos and Text by David Goldman