“Superior Court of Guam Judge Michael J. Bordallo dismissed slander claims against Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron, but libel claims against him remain in a $2 million defamation lawsuit brought in 2016 by former altar boys. Slander is spoken defamation, libel is written defamation.
Three former altar boys and the family of a deceased fourth altar boy accused Apuron of sexually abusing them when he was parish priest in Agat in the late 1970s.
The civil lawsuit accuses Apuron and the church of making defamatory statements against the four accusers, despite knowing there was a history of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese, files state.
Bordallo’s Feb. 8 decision grants part of Apuron’s motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed by former altar boys Roy Quintanilla, Walter Denton and Roland Sondia, along with Doris Concepcion, mother of deceased former altar boy Joseph Anthony “Sonny” Quinata.
Apuron, through attorney Jacqueline Terlaje, in September 2016 filed a motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit.
In his order, Bordallo said the damages that plaintiffs alleged include only “losses to their reputation, shame, mortification, and hurt feelings and losses with respect to their occupations” and not any specific economic losses caused by the defendant’s statements.
“Accordingly, because plaintiffs failed to plead special damages, Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” the judge wrote. “Therefore, the court holds that dismissal of the slander claim is appropriate.”
Apuron, through his attorney, argued that the libel claims against Apuron should be dismissed on the basis that the statements are privileged under self-defense.
Bordallo said self-defense is not an absolute privilege, so dismissing the libel claims at this time is inappropriate.
Tim Rohr, a Catholic issues blogger, said he believes the judge’s decision helps strengthen the defamation case against Apuron because it refocuses the case on the issue of libel.
At issue is a May 31, 2016 media release from the archdiocese in response to abuse allegations, he said.
“The release did not simply defend Apuron’s innocence, as Apuron had done in his video message of May 17, 2016, but specifically attacked Mrs. Concepcion as ‘malicious and calumnious’, when in fact, all she had done was share what her deceased son had told her right before he died.””