HAGATNA, Guam -- One by one, they file into a darkened room to have their pictures taken, gracious while loosening their grip on long-held secrets. Each brings along a childhood photo of himself at around the age when they say they were abused by Catholic clergy.
They're men now, some gray and balding, others who have just filled out in the face a little. Yet they still resemble their boyhood photos. For some, it has been 50 or 60 years since that child laughed with innocence intact. The photos are painful reminders of a happier time, or of what might have been a happier life.
Their lawsuits are among at least 223 that have been filed alleging abuse by 35 clergymen, teachers and Boy Scout leaders tied to the Catholic Church. In response, the Guam archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, estimating at least $45 million in liabilities, and survivors have until Aug. 15 to file for a financial settlement.
Melvin Duenas, 58, sits beside a photo of himself when he was 11 years old, the age when he says he was sexually molested by two priests. Until then, he says, he looked at priests as God himself.
"I tried to commit suicide," he says. "I was so upset at God. I tried to numb my thoughts and started drinking. I was a drug addict by the age of 15. A lot of darkness, it just follows me."
For Troy Torres, 38, it's been nearly a quarter century of questioning not his abuser but himself, for what he sees as a lack of the courage to stop his accuser. Torres says he was sexually molested at the age of 13.
"Why wasn't I brave enough?" he asks. "I always thought it was my fault."
Another man, now 58, who gives only his initials, C.M.V., looks at a photo of his 11-year-old self and shakes his head.
"I try not to think about it," he says, before becoming too overcome with emotion to continue. He thanks me for taking his picture and somberly walks out.
Each of these men now bravely sits before the camera, wanting to be heard and believed — even if it's too hard to get the words out.
This photo essay runs with a story about clergy sex abuse on Guam. https://www.apnews.com/