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Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Ryan Jimenez to lead the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Agaña on the island of Guam, transferring the 52-year-old Filipino from the neighboring Northern Mariana Islands.

The July 6 move may mark the beginning of a more stable period for the Church on the U.S. island territory after the archdiocese suffered bankruptcy, a sex abuse scandal involving one former archbishop, and the premature departure of another archbishop for unspecified medical reasons.

“He is taking over an archdiocese that is in the throes of getting out of bankruptcy. He needs to win the confidence of our faithful as we work collectively to settle our debt to the victims of clergy sex abuse and their families,” David Sablan, president of the group Concerned Catholics of Guam, told the Guam newspaper July 7.

“Bishop Jimenez has his work cut out for him,” Sablan added. Jimenez will fill a seat left vacant by Archbishop Michael Byrnes, who formally resigned as head of the Agaña Archdiocese in March 2023 after dealing with medical issues. Byrnes, who is from Detroit, had succeeded former Agaña Archbishop Anthony Apuron, following his removal by Pope Francis after the Vatican found him guilty of the sexual abuse of minors in 2019.

Jimenez comes from the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, a suffragan diocese of Agaña, which he has led since June 2016. Chalan Kanoa is the diocese covering the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth and unincorporated territory of the United States in the northwestern Pacific Ocean.

The 14 Northern Mariana Islands are part of a crescent-shaped archipelago that also includes the separate U.S. territory of Guam, the southernmost island. According to 2022 statistics, the Archdiocese of Agaña has over 148,000 Catholics, totaling more than 87% of the population.

Archdiocese’s challenging past

While still formally archbishop, Apuron was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority in June 2016 following accusations he had sexually abused minors. Four months later, in October 2016, Pope Francis appointed Byrnes coadjutor archbishop of Agaña. Apuron was found guilty of several abuse-related charges by the Vatican’s then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in March 2018. The conviction was upheld on appeal in February 2019, and the final sentencing was announced April 4, 2019.

Apuron was deprived of his office as archbishop of Agaña; forbidden from using its insignia, including the bishop’s miter and ring; and banned from living within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese. He was not removed from ministry and remains a priest under Church law.

In January 2019, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in federal court in the wake of numerous sex abuse allegations. The move, decided upon in November 2018, allowed the archdiocese to avoid trial and to begin to reach settlements in the abuse lawsuits, which amounted to over $115 million.

By Hannah Brockhaus

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