Last day for Calvo to sign bill which could open church to lawsuits

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Sept. 23, 2016) – Gov. Eddie Calvo is weighing the concerns of the Catholic church and the community as he decides what to do with a bill that would allow victims of child sexual abuse to sue their abusers, according to the governor’s office.{restrict]

Today is the governor’s last day to sign or veto Bill 326-33, or the bill lapses into law without his signature. Senators on Sept. 12 approved the bill 13-0. If it becomes law, it could make the Catholic church on Guam open to lawsuits by those who, in recent months, have publicly accused priests of raping or molesting them. restrict]

The Archdiocese of Agana has stated its opposition to the bill, arguing lawsuits could financially cripple the local church. It submitted thousands of signatures to the governor, urging him to veto the measure.

The governor’s director of communications Oyaol Ngirairikl said, “(Calvo is) still contemplating. He’s still going over some of the information that we’ve researched for him. He’s looking at it very carefully because he wants to make the best decision. I think he’s firm in making a decision before the end of the day.”

At around noon Thursday, a press conference was held at the governor’s complex by one of the alleged sexual abuse victims of Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron. The accuser once again for the governor to sign the bill.

“This is not about money or destroying the church. This is about the church taking responsibility. Actual responsibility. True and honest responsibility,” said Roland L. Sondia, who in June publicly accused Apuron of molesting him when Sondia was a 15-year-old altar boy in Agat in the 1970s. “No more talking. No more stalling and hiding and scaring and confusing the public and the Catholic faithful. No more excuses.”

Sondia said stood in front of the governor’s office not only for himself and other survivors who already have come forward, but also for those who are still suffering in silence. He said if the bill becomes law, he intends to file a lawsuit.

“We need more survivors to come forward and more of the perpetrators to be exposed. Only then will healing begin. It is time for the community to heal and unite. It is time for the survivors to become whole again,” Sondia said. Sondia is an employee of the Pacific Daily News.

Joining Sondia at the press conference was Joe Santos, founder of the Silent No More movement, which has pushed for passage of the bill lifting the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases.

Santos said the bill targets not only the church, but all other entities or institutions associated with child abuse perpetrators.

“I cried with the victims as they shared their stories,” said Santos, who thanked the victims for coming forward. He also thanked Sen. Frank Blas Jr., R-Barrigada, for introducing the bill, the senators who passed it, and others who support it.

Archbishop Savio Tai Fai Hon, who arrived back on Guam from Rome Thursday, has called for the governor’s veto of the bill, citing its impact on the church’s finances, schools and social services for the needy.

Apuron’s alleged victims now living in Hawaii, Arizona and those who have stayed on Guam, also made public appeals to the governor to sign the bill.

Governor’s director of communications Ngirairikl said Thursday the messages sent by community members to the governor are being taken into consideration.

“These are the folks, I think, for the governor, he feels a lot for because there’s just so much hurt, and these are things that he’s taking into grave consideration because he understands the gravity of the situation and he wants to do what is right,” she said. “I think even for folks who are not in the church, just being a member of this community, island home we call Guam, we can see that this is tearing the community apart.” Pacific Daily News [/restrict]