Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Hotline offered to church sex abuse victims as church seeks dismissal of lawsuits

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The Hope and Healing fund is a separate entity from the Archdiocese of Agana and all phone calls will be made confidential.

Guam - A day after the Archdiocese of Agana filed for dismissal of 36 federal cases of sexual abuse, they introduced the executive director of the Hope and Healing fund. His name is Michael Caspino, an attorney with extensive background in handling similar cases for other catholic dioceses.

So if the church is asking the federal court to dismiss the cases on grounds that the law that lifted the civil statute of limitations for sex abuse cases is unconstitutional, then how can they, in the same breath, offer a Hope and Healing fund for the same victims who are seeking monetary damages in court?

"My main commitment to this is to the healing of the victims and that we’re ready to do whatever it takes to accomplish that," said Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes.

"This is still gonna be there. The commitment to the victims runs deeper than even what’s going to go on at the courthouse," noted Caspino.

"The thing I’m trying to say is this isn’t determined by the outcome of what happens in court," he added.

In their motion to dismiss, the Archdiocese does not deny that the sexual abuse occurred at the hands of their own clergy members, including suspended Archbishop Anthony Apuron. What they focus on instead is the legality of the legislation as it applies to institutions.

Attorney John Terlaje, who represents the archdiocese, argues that although the language of the law says that claims can be filed at "any time" against institutions, it remains ambiguous as to what the legislature intended; any time "prospectively" or did they mean any time "retroactively," to include past allegations.

Regardless of the legislature’s intent and how these cases play out in court, Caspino says settling out of court through hope and healing has proven to work better for many of the victim’s he’s helped in the past.

"In working on these cases over the years we’ve learned quite a bit. We’ve learned that when you slug it out in court and go back and forth and eventually settle the cases it does’t do anybody much good," explained Caspino. "The problem with our court system is it deals with everybody the exact same way ... litigation just doesn’t solve these cases. Slugging it out in court just makes victims a victim twice. We’re putting the victims first here."

The Hope and Healing fund is a separate, non profit entity that is independent of the church. Caspino says the only role the church will have is funding the hope and healing fund and picking its board members.

"Free of charge counseling. Free of charge whatever’s needed to get people back to where they need to be," he said. "If you call in for counseling we’re not gonna give you, we’re not gonna interrogate you. We’re gonna take you at face value. that you were hurt and you need help."

Caspino says the archdiocese has already begun the process of converting assets, including the possible sale of the Chancery Office in Agana Heights.

The number to call the Hope and Healing hotline is 1-888-649-5288. Each individual who calls will be handled on a case by case basis and amounts offered to the victims will differ depending on their situation.

Caspino says they will be announcing the new board members within the next few days. In the meantime, Caspino says he is in talks with Attorney David Lujan, who represents a majority of the victims, and there is a possibility that they will seek a stay to hold the case in abeyance for three to four months while the Hope and Healing fund is in service.



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