Denton Guam Apuron Niland
Title: ‘Look what he’s taken from me’: the deadly toll of Catholic church sex abuse on Guam
Author: Anita Hofschneider
Publisher: The Guardian
Roosters crow in the distance as Walter Denton gestures toward a white one-storey concrete building behind a church in Agat, a village in southern Guam.
“You know, just standing here, right behind you, that is where I was raped,” says Denton, 56.
It has been more than three years since Denton first went public with accusations that Guam’s former archbishop Anthony Apuron assaulted him, and even though he has told the story many times his voice is still heavy with emotion.
Denton says he was 12 or 13 years old and had fallen asleep in the church rectory, where Apuron had asked him to spend the night, and then “woke up screaming,” laying on his stomach with his hands pinned down and Apuron on top of him.
Denton says when the priest finally stopped, he offered to give Denton straight A’s in theology class.
The next day, Denton was in shock. He didn’t want to tell his dad what happened. It took him months to tell a friend, a fellow altar server.
Together they confided in a priest named Jack Niland.
“Well boys,” the priest allegedly replied. “Priesthood is a lonely life.” (Niland is now the subject of multiple sexual abuse lawsuits. He died in 2009.)
It wasn’t until 2015 that Denton realised his childhood trauma wasn’t an isolated incident. Back on Guam, he overheard a cousin talking with a friend about how Apuron had sexual relations with seminarians. Denton says hearing that made him so angry, and he blurted out that Apuron had raped him.
Later that year, he wrote a letter to the Vatican detailing his alleged rape. In 2016, he described his trauma at a press conference on Guam. His was among a series of public announcements organised by local critics of the archbishop who had convinced Denton and others to speak up against Apuron, then one of the most powerful people on Guam.
Though Denton didn’t realise it at the time, his allegation would help set off a chain of events that has revealed hundreds of sexual abuse cases across multiple decades on Guam and forced the church there to declare bankruptcy, shaking the foundations of a community deeply rooted in the Catholic religion.