Guam – Father Paul Gofigan, the overthrown priest of Santa Barbara Catholic Church in Dededo, has spoken out about the controversy over his defiance from the Archdiocese, saying he believes his canonical rights as a priest were violated.
The Archdiocese of Agana, however, says the decision to replace father Paul was out made of concern for the safety of the children.
“I just would like to say that I didn’t really mean for this to escalate as far as it did but there is a point to be made here that my office as pastor of Santa Barbara is a canonical one and therefore being canonical, removing a pastor from a parish has its own canonical process,” says Father Paul Gofigan.
Father Paul believes his rights were violated when Archbishop Anthony Apuron forced him to resign without fair warning. The controversy stems from a decision Father Paul made about two years ago to hire a convicted sex offender at the Santa Barbara Church. The crime was rape and it was committed over 32 years ago when the man was about 21 years old. His victim at the time was an 18 year old female. About two years ago, in 2011, Archbishop Apuron warned Father Paul about that decision.
“They met with me regarding this particular person two years ago and they asked me to terminate him because of his status as a registered sex offender which I did. I have documents to prove that,” asserts Father Paul.
However, in a statement released by the Archdiocese of Agana yesterday, Vicar General Msgr. David Quitugua says Father Paul disobeyed the Archbishop’s directive. Msgr. Quitugua says that while Father Paul claims he terminated the man in 2011, “our investigation has revealed that the person continued to have an active presence at the parish as a volunteer. This person had keys to the facilities and had an active role on church grounds.”
“The fact that he has keys and does work, the work that he does is volunteer. As far as the keys are concerned, those are my keys and as pastor I am responsible for opening the doors for the parishioners and there are times when he’s here and I have other things to do that I allow him just to open the doors. But most of the time he comes right here to the priest house. And who is to prevent him from coming to see me for spiritual guidance or for confession or even just to feel wanted and to feel welcome,” states Father Paul.
The controversy was sparked after Father Paul disseminated a letter to the Santa Barbara Parishioners last Saturday to explain why he was replaced. In the Catholic Church, it’s relatively uncommon to hear of a priest who refuses to obey a direct order from the Archbishop. Father Paul explains his defiance.
“Yes, my obedience is to the archbishop but my obedience is first to Christ and the law of Christ, which is to love, to love God, to love neighbor and he also added on even our enemies,” says the pastor.
Father Paul believes he wasn’t given a fair chance to respond to the allegations against him. He was asked to resign on July 16. He is now being represented by a canon lawyer.
“I feel that my rights as a pastor have been violated and I haven’t been allowed the 15 days that every pastor is usually allowed to to respond to a letter such as the archbishop’s letter and that’s really my point,” he notes.
Despite the Archdiocese’s insistence that the registered sex offender is a danger to church goers and to school children just a few hundred yards from the church, Father Paul defends the man saying he is well loved by the parishioners.
“He has since been coming back to the priest house to help but then he has, he’s so well loved by the parishioners that it’s the parishioners who ask him to go and help, help around with their activities, helping them set up, helping them clean up,” says Father Paul.
Asked whether the Santa Barbara Parishioners knew of the man’s criminal past, Father Paul responded: “Yes, yes. I mean this is nothing new. They cannot see what the problem is. We’re all here to forgive, we’re all here to help each other.”
We also asked Father Paul if he believes the man is dangerous?
“No. As a priest, my one big passion is youth and everybody knows that. I have a wonderful life team and youth program here. If I had any inkling that this person was a grave danger to them, I definitely would not let him near the children. But this person committed a crime over 32 years ago,” he points out. “It’s time to forgive, it’s time to help, it’s time to pick each other up.”
Finally, his message to parishioners of the Santa Barbara Church and to all Catholic faithful.
“To my parishioners, don’t leave your church. I’ve always preached to them that this is their church, it belongs to them, they make it what it is,” he says.
“To the people of the church, don’t lose faith, don’t lose hope, don’t be angry. We need to fight evil with good,” he adds.
Monsignor David Quitugua declined an on camera interview because the matter is now in litigation. However, he emphasized that the Archdiocese’s interest is always for the safety of the children.