Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez urged the community yesterday to remain calm and asked for prayers in the wake of a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by a Guam resident against then-priest and now bishop emeritus Tomas A. Camacho of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa.
Melvin Duenas, through lawyer David J. Lujan, sued Camacho, retired priest Louis Brouillard, and several John Does Monday in the U.S. District Court of Guam. Duenas, now 55 years old and residing in Yona, is seeking $5 million in damages.
He is the 17th individual to come forward and file a lawsuit against a member of the Archdiocese of Agana clergy. Walter Denton, Roy Quintanilla, Roland Sondia, and Leo Tudela—all former altar boys—were among the first to come forward and accuse former Guam archbishop Anthony Apuron and Brouillard of sex abuse. They filed the first batch of lawsuits, with Lujan also representing them.
Guam and the CNMI are both predominantly Catholic after being under Spanish rule for three centuries.
Jimenez, in a statement released yesterday, said he was saddened to learn of Duenas’ civil lawsuit against Camacho and is requesting prayers for the accuser, Camacho, and their respective families.
“I request your prayers for everyone affected by this news, those who have sought and continue to seek redress from abuses, the accused and their journey to realize due process, the families on each side that are struck with a heavy weight of pain that comes with each sharing, and everyone within our midst who are affected one way or another,” said Jimenez.
He said the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa would act consistently within the Catholic faith and with justice and mercy.
“We have communicated with the Archdiocese of Agana where then-Fr. Camacho served as a priest at the time alleged in the lawsuit.”
“Our prayers go out to Mr. Duenas and his family. We also ask for prayers for bishop emeritus [Camacho] and his family. Since this is a matter in litigation, the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa can offer no further comment on this matter. We give our full cooperation with civil authorities.”
Jimenez, who became bishop of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa last year after being its apostolic administrator after Camacho resigned in 2010, said the diocese remains committed to protecting children and young people.
“The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, sets the norms for our diocese. We are working to maintain a safe church environment, especially through education and transparency,” said Jimenez.
“Three years ago, we started a series of trainings and workshops on child protection for all our church workers and volunteers. We will continue this training and formation for the clergy, Catholic schools personnel, CCD instructors, diocesan staff, and others in positions of authority.”
He invited the community to attend a Holy Hour to be held in all parishes on Friday from 5pm to 6pm. “I invite everyone to reach a location of your choosing and to pray together. At this time, we turn to the Lord Jesus, who is the truth, for truly, our help is from the Lord.”
Concerned Catholics of Guam president Dave Sablan said he was saddened to learn of the lawsuit against Camacho but suggested that they too could assist individuals in the CNMI, if ever there’s a victim of clergy abuse here.
“Originally [the CCOG] had a hotline where we kept the identities of the victims confidential. Now we refer them to proper authorities, either in the government or community organizations. We refer them for counseling or to seek legal assistance. We just give them whatever assistance they need,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune in a phone interview.
“That’s why last year, when the proliferation of alleged sexual abuses of clergymen came up, [CCOG] developed a seven-point plan that we gave to the Archdiocese of Agana that we suggested through a memorandum of agreement and memorandum of understanding.”
He added that there are government agencies and community organizations in Guam that handle alleged sexual abuse cases, like the Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Public Defender, and other organizations that offer social services.
Sablan said that they also suggested to victims of alleged sexual abuse by priests to seek help from these organizations.
“There are community organizations who have professional people to help victims through counseling and referral to lawyers if they seek legal action. They discuss the situation and put the victim under their care and protection,” said Sablan.
He said that what also needs to be done in these types of cases is have an independent organization handling it.
“It keeps the situation objective. They get the information needed and see what can be done to help the victims. That, I think, is the best way to help the victims.”
“We still receive phone calls [in Guam] but most of the time the cases have become technical, that’s why we have been referring them to proper authorities.”