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Alleged Massachusetts abuse victim requests outside judge in suit, citing diocese's influence

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St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield, Mass. / John Phelan/wikimedia CC BY SA 3.0

Springfield, Mass., Apr 27, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Lawyers for an alleged abuse victim in the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts have asked the state’s chief justice to assign a special judge from outside western Massachusetts to the case, citing a potential for undue influence from people associated with the diocese. 

The alleged victim, identified as John Doe, claims he suffered trauma as a result of the diocese’s mishandling of an abuse allegation he brought against the late Christopher Weldon, Bishop of Springfield from 1950 to 1977. 

Doe, a former altar boy, alleges that Bishop Weldon, along with two priests of the Springfield diocese, repeatedly abused him in the 1960s, and that he first remembered his abuse in 2013. Weldon died in 1982. 

Doe alleges in a Jan. 28 lawsuit that Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, who was Bishop of Springfield from 2014 to 2020, and other diocesan officials met his complaint with “deliberate indifference,” which caused him further trauma. 

Archbishop Rozanski, who now serves as Archbishop of St. Louis, has acknowledged that the Springfield diocese mishandled the abuse case, which the plaintiff says he first brought to the diocese’s attention in November 2014.

The alleged victim’s lawsuit was filed in Hampden Superior Court early this year. Some 20 to 30 witnesses are expected to testify for the plaintiff, the Berkshire Eagle reported

Judge Edward McDonough, a former colleague of diocesan attorney John Egan, sits on the Hampden Superior Court, where the lawsuit was filed. The plaintiff’s attorneys contend that having an outside judge preside over the lawsuit would be more just, and suggested Judge Janet Kenton-Walker, an associate justice for the Massachusetts Superior Courts. 

The nine defendants in the lawsuit, which include the diocese as well as Egan and Archbishop Rozanski, have opposed the request for a special judge. 

Doe claims that while he brought his claim of abuse to two mandated reporters in 2014, those diocesan employees did not bring the allegation to Kevin Murphy— the diocesan investigator— or the local district attorney until 2018. 

Doe also claims that he told the Springfield diocesan review board directly at a 2018 meeting that Bishop Weldon had raped him. However, the suit alleges that later statements to a local reporter by the diocese, which Archbishop Rozanski approved, did not acknowledge the abuse allegation against Bishop Weldon. 

During June 2019, Archbishop Rozanski commissioned an independent investigation, led by retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis, into the handling of the allegation against Bishop Weldon. The 373-page report concluded that Doe’s claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon were “unequivocally credible.”

The Velis investigation also concluded that out of four separate reports written by Kevin Murphy, a diocesan investigator, two appeared to state that Bishop Weldon had not himself engaged in abuse, but was present on several occasions when abuse occurred. 

It was those two reports that were apparently shared with the diocesan review board, rather than the reports which were more clear in accusing Bishop Weldon himself of abuse. 

Velis said his findings raise questions about whether there was an attempt to conceal the diocesan investigator’s reports about Bishop Weldon from the review board or Bishop Rozanski.

Mark Dupont, secretary of communications for the Diocese of Springfield, disputed to CNA that the Velis report contained “finding of any cover-up.” 

Archbishop Rozanski told Velis he was not aware of the specifics of Doe’s allegation of abuse by Bishop Weldon, and did not know about the different reports about Doe’s allegation produced by the diocesan investigator. Archbishop Rozanski has said he knew that Bishop Weldon was accused of being “present during incidents of abuse that occurred.” 

In June 2020, following the report’s release, Archbishop Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.” Archbishop Rozanski backed major changes in the Springfield diocese’s handling of abuse during his tenure. 

“At almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well to a deep desire for a just response for the terrible abuse which he endured,” the then-archbishop-designate said at a press conference one year after he commissioned Velis to conduct the investigation.

Both a diocesan investigator and a victim’s advocate involved in Doe’s case are no longer employed by the diocese, and Bishop Weldon is now named on the Springfield diocese website as a “deceased bishop who was found to have credible allegations of abuse.”

Both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Springfield have, to other publications, declined to comment on pending cases. 

This is not the first time abuse concerns regarding a bishop have surfaced in the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.

In 2004, Bishop Thomas Dupre became the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. to be indicted on criminal charges for sexual abuse. The case did not go to trial due to the statute of limitations on some charges and because the grand jury decided not to indict on other charges, The Republican reported. Bishop Dupre was Bishop of Springfield from 1995 to 2004.

Bishop Weldon was consecrated and appointed Bishop of Springfield in 1950, after coming to prominence in the Archdiocese of New York. 

Though he was ordained a priest for that archdiocese in 1929, the New York archdiocese does not include Bishop Weldon on its list of credibly accused priests. 

There are no consistent Church norms regarding notification of a credible allegation of abuse when a priest or bishop is from another diocese.

Article 7 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People says that dioceses are to be “open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved.”

“This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by sexual abuse of a minor,” the charter reads.


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