Diocese Mails Settlement Checks, Invites Victims to East Longmeadow Mass

By Bill Pomerleau
Iobserve [Springfield MA]
September 7, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The mailing of settlement checks to 46 individuals claiming sexual abuse by priests, an invitation to a Mass for victims, and a new grant to hire a victim resource coordinator were among the developments in recent days as the Diocese of Springfield continued to deal with the aftermath of the sexual misconduct scandal.

On Aug. 31, the diocese delivered settlement checks to 46 individuals who say that they were the victims of sexual misconduct by 18 diocesan and religious priests during the past several decades.

Under an agreement signed reached with their attorney, John Stobierski of Greenfield, July 22, the diocese recently allocated $7 million, plus one half of the cost of the services of Commonwealth Mediation Services, a firm that allocated settlement amount among the complainants.

The diocese has also turned over the deeds to two properties in Springfield and Wilbraham to a real estate trust headed by Stobierski, according to Mark E. Dupont, diocesan spokesman.

When sold, the proceeds from the properties will be divided among the complainants in the same proportions as the $7 million.

The checks sent to the victims this week included two-thirds of the individual settlement, minus the other half of the arbitration expenses Stobierski has passed on to his clients.

Following the terms of the agreement, the remainder of the settlement funds, totaling somewhat more than $2.3 million, was sent directly to Stobierski.

In a separate development, the diocese also agreed last week to spend $50,000 on a victim resource coordinator, who would operate independently from the church and victims activist groups.

Under the recent legal settlement, the diocese had guaranteed its long-established policy of offering lifetime therapy abuse victims.

Finding that therapy, and referrals to more general social assistance, has up to now been largely the responsibility of Laura Failla Reilly, a licensed social worker who serves as the diocese’s victim advocate.

Under the new arrangement, victims of abuse will now also be referred to a private, non-profit social service agency that will help victims to access services.

A proposal for an independent resource coordinator came earlier this year from Martin Bono, a Chicopee abuse survivor who recently settled a claim made against the diocese.

During a meeting with Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, Bono said that some victim survivors are reluctant to seek help from anyone employed by the diocese.

In his proposal, he envisioned that survivors might need assistance with accessing mental health services, and in dealing with substance abuse, family issues, and financial needs.

" I think with this ‘Victim Resource Coordinator’ program, it allows for survivors to access resources that we normally don’t know are available," Bono said in a prepared statement issued by the diocese. He noted that survivors of clergy abuse in Boston accessed only a small percentage of the human services that are available. "We want to make these individuals aware of all the services that are available."

He also told The Boston Globe this week that he is concerned that when Stobierski’s clients receive their settlement checks this week, they won’t make smart decisions about how to use the money.

" A lot of the guys could probably use someone to talk to about what to do when the money comes in. The money won’t just be the answer to everyone’s problems," Bono told the Globe.

The diocese mailed a Request for Proposal (RFP) Aug. 30 to local social service agencies who might want to administer the one-year grant.

Although RFP states that the coordinator will operate independently, he or she will be allowed to speak to church and survivor groups and explain the need for this type of outreach.

The coordinator, though independent from the diocese, will maintain open communications through the diocesan secretary for health and human services, Failla Reilly, as specified in the RFP.

The new position, which is expected to be filled once the 30-day RFP period expires at the end of September, is believed to be the first of its kind for any diocese in the United States.

A committee headed by Bono, Failla Reilly, Sister of St. Joseph Betty Broughan and an individual to be named later will select the grant recipient.

Mass for victims

Bishop McDonnell also announced this week that he would concelebrate a Mass for clergy abuse victims at St. Michael Church in East Longmeadow on Sunday, Sept. 12 at 10 a.m.

The diocese and Father James Scahill, pastor of St. Michael’s, have sent invitations to the liturgy to all known victims of abuse.

The East Longmeadow liturgy is another in a series of public events that have been held in the diocese in the past two years acknowledging the needs of abuse victims

The parishes of the Hampden East Deanery sponsored "healing Masses" in the spring of 2003 and 2004. A forum on issues raised by the abuse crisis was held at the Newman Center at the University of Massachusetts in 2002, and several diocesan officials have spoken to the activist group Voice of the Faithful.

Local clergy, religious and laity have also contributed the Fund for Healing and Hope, still another source of assistance for victims, though a mail appeal, a fund-raising concert, a Boston Marathon run by Father Daniel Pacholec and a lecture sponsored by Catholic Latino Ministry.

Bishop McDonnell also personally invited abuse victims to his April 1 installation as the Eighth Bishop of Springfield., which had limited seating in St. Michael’s Cathedral. During his homily at the televised liturgy, Bishop McDonnell said," Over the years, young people were wronged and the trust given so freely by their families was betrayed. It should never have happened.

" From the depths of my being, I apologize to those who have been hurt."


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