Monday, September 1, 2014

"What on Earth" is the Fight about within the Church in Guam?

Many are probably wondering "What on Earth?" as the fight within the local Catholic Church spills into the streets and onto the pages of newspapers and nightly news. It's a mess by anybody's reckoning. And it's time for an explanation.

The war is not new. It has been 20 years in the making. Twenty years ago, a certain Fr. Pius Sammut arrived on Guam to plant the Neocatechumenal Way -- a particular approach to Christianity started in the 1960s in Spain. Fr. Pius found a warm welcome in Archbishop Apuron and together they set off to plant the Neo flag in Guam.

There are many different groups within the Church, but none have caused such division as the Neocatechumenal Way. The cause of this division is inherent in its structure. For whereas the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the central prayer and unifying act of all Catholics regardless of what group they may or may not belong to, the Neocatechumenal Way celebrates its own version of the Mass apart from the rest of the Church, and usually not even in a church.

It would be difficult to explain the different levels of authority they have or don't have to do this. The bottom line is that regardless of those permissions or lack of them, the Neocatechumenal Way practices have led to the painful division that is now spilling into the street.

For several years, parishioners found ways to go along to get along. And it might still be that way except for what happened in January of 2006.

In December of 2005, Pope Benedict, through the Cardinal Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship, ordered the Neocatechumenal Way to cease receiving communion seated and to receive like the rest of the Church: standing or kneeling.

One month later, Archbishop Apuron took to the air on Catholic radio, publicly criticizing the directive and calling the cardinal's credentials into question, even though the directive written by the cardinal began with the words: "I am to inform you of the Holy Father's decisions."

So in January of 2006, Archbishop Apuron effectively not only gave a public "no" to the Holy Father, but in addition ridiculed both his messenger and his message. This was major and the listeners knew it!

At that moment, Guam Catholics had before them their archbishop publicly siding against the Holy Father, and with a group, whose leader, Kiko Arugello, had also publicly opposed the same papal directive. The question for Guam's Catholics at that moment became: Do we go with Pope Benedict? Or do we go with Kiko Arguello, whom Archbishop Apuron is now publicly and officially following?

But there was also a third possibility: Maybe the archbishop had simply made a mistake. I had hoped it was the latter. However, that hope was wiped away the following day.

The show on which the archbishop had spoken was a regular Monday morning program, and the show was normally replayed the same afternoon and twice more later in the week.

Fr. Mike Crisostomo, the host of the program, was very aware of the archbishop's damaging statement and immediately ordered the replay pulled. However, no explanation was given to my son, the technician responsible for its replay.

With the news of the archbishop's statement spreading like wildfire, many were tuned in at 3 p.m. that afternoon to hear the replay. There was none. The phone at the station began ringing. Callers wanted to know why. My son, not having any other information, simply answered: "I don't know. They just told me not to play it."

Obviously, this added fuel to the fire and an emergency meeting was called to come up with an explanation for pulling the show for next two scheduled replays.

I was at the meeting and so was the archbishop. Everyone knew the gravity of the situation. The right thing to do would have been for the archbishop to simply state that he had misspoke and apologize for the confusion. That didn't happen.

Instead, a member of the clergy proposed that we blame the missing replay on "technical difficulties."

The room fell silent. The archbishop said nothing. We had just all been asked to lie. I waited. Silence.

Finally, I said: "That's a lie."

And I am still saying it.

Written by

Tim Rohr
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