Springfield Diocese to institute series of reforms after sexual abuse accusations against the late Bishop Christopher Weldon are found to be credible
SPRINGFIELD – Bishop Christopher Weldon’s name will be removed from the Mercy Medical Center rehabilitation center, all honorable references, memorials and photographs of him will be removed from Catholic properties and his remains buried at the entrance to the cemetery of the Heaven’s Gate will be exhumed and moved to a less prominent location in the cemetery and its grave marked with an ordinary ashlar.
But the biggest change announced Wednesday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield will be to create a new system to deal with clergy abuse complaints that calls for welcoming survivors’ accusations and examining them thoroughly and with compassion, said the Right Reverend Mitchell Rozanski, Bishop of the Diocese.
The changes came to light after retired judge Peter Velis announced that a year-long study determined the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon sexually assaulted a boy. The victim came forward in 2014 as an adult to report abuse by Weldon and two other clergymen.
“These allegations were unequivocally credible,” he said.
Weldon, who died in 1982, was Bishop of Springfield for 27 years. In the past, there were at least two earlier instances where Weldon’s name was part of a lawsuit or complaint, but neither was deemed credible.
The diocese’s proxy journalists who first heard the account of the alleged victim of sexual abuse by the bishop did not report the case to law enforcement officials. The accuser requested a meeting with Rozanski last June after the diocesan review board said the individual did not allege sexual abuse by Weldon during his June 2018 appearance before council . Three people present at the meeting supported the victim’s account.
Rozanski hired Velis to conduct an independent review of the allegations a year ago, giving him carte blanche to review all files and interview anyone in the diocese. Velis said during his first meeting with the bishop that he asked about the purpose of the investigation and Rozanski hit the table with his fist and said: “I want the truth”.
When announcing the results, Velis called the initial investigations into the survivor’s allegations “woefully flawed.” The review board was hampered because the members did not receive all the information they should have received before making the decision and “were shocked” after receiving additional facts.
“In my review, it was clear that the process included inexplicable modification and manipulation of reports received and processed by the Diocesan Review Board. In addition, the complaints process was compromised to the extent that mandatory journalists failed in their duty to report allegations to prosecuting authorities, ”Velis said in his report summary.
In the report, Velis included a list of recommendations he said he hoped would be met, including a system of checks and balances.
This is “extremely necessary within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to access the process of inquiry which is the real core of this whole problem,” Velis said.
“I can honestly tell you that this is the best thing you can do for the future, because deeds have already been done. The misdeeds, the bad deeds have already been accomplished, ”he said.
Rozanski, who will leave Springfield in August to take over as Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, apologized to the victim for the “terrible abuse he must have suffered as a child” and mismanagement at many times in the investigation that began in 2014.
“In almost every case, we have let down this courageous man who nevertheless preserved thanks in part to a reliable support network as well as a deep desire for justice,” he said.
But Rozanski has said the apologies don’t go far enough and he has announced a series of reforms that will start immediately or have already started. Weldon’s name will also be added to the diocese’s public list of members of the clergy who have credible or proven accusations of abuse against them.
On Wednesday, the new independent task force on responding to sexual abuse will start working and will be led by retired judge Daniel Ford.
In addition, the Victim Assistance and Safe Environment office is being reorganized to be more responsive.
Ford called actions that have taken place in the past “shameful,” but said the upside is that the truth has now been exposed and reforms can now begin.
When Rozanski asked him to chair the task force, Ford said they had met to discuss Veils’ findings.
“He stressed that what he expects from us is a document that identifies what he believes are best practices to tackle the scourge of child sexual abuse in the future,” said Ford.
The working group will review all of the recommendations that Velis made in its report and will also collect additional data and solicit input from various people in the diocese, including the clergy, survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and other members.
The group will review the recommendations made by Velis and discuss whether each should be adopted. He will also discuss changing one of the proposals and discuss the need for other changes not addressed in the report, he said.
The diocese has taken other steps in the recent past to deal with allegations of clergy abuse, including overhauling the victim assistance office. In May, authorities also announced that they would inform area law enforcement and the relevant district attorney’s office once it becomes aware of any allegations of sexual assault by the clergy on minors or any other “vulnerable person” in parishes in western Massachusetts.