Alleged Victim, Priest on Panel

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
November 23, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - For the first time, a priest and an alleged victim of clergy sexual abuse have been named to the Review Board that investigates allegations of misconduct made against priests and other personnel in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Previously the nine-member Review Board was composed solely of lay people. The change was announced yesterday by the diocese.

"We feel the addition of both a victim and a priest adds balance to our Review Board and in turns adds to its credibility. This certainly has been the experience of other dioceses," said diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont.

The Springfield diocese's bishop, the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, who made the appointments, was unavailable for comment late yesterday.

The naming of alleged victim James Stankiewicz of Dalton fulfills a commitment McDonnell made several months ago to others who have said they were abused by clergy.

Stankiewicz, assistant superintendent of the Central Berkshires Regional School District, brought his allegation of abuse forward in 1993 to the Misconduct Commission, now called the Review Board, according to a statement released by the diocese.

"I look forward to working with the other professionals on the board so that together we may help victims of abuse in their process of healing," Stankiewicz was quoted as saying in the statement.

Several attempts to reach him by phone were unsuccessful last night.

The Rev. Robert White, a Stigmatine Order priest who is pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Springfield, becomes the first member of the clergy to serve on the board since it was formed 11 years ago by the late Bishop John A. Marshall.

"It is my sincere hope that I will listen with pastoral sensitivity and compassion to anyone who comes to the Review Board," White was quoted as saying in the statement.

He could not be reached yesterday for further comment.

When U.S. bishops created a clergy sexual abuse policy in 2002, it included a provision that states at least one member of the clergy should be included on review panels, but that the majority would be lay people not employed by the diocese.

A 51-year-old lawyer who is a clergy abuse victim and who didn't want his identity revealed said a victim on the panel will add to its credibility, but wasn't certain about a priest joining it. "There are certain things that victims experience that no one else - regardless of how sympathetic they may be - will understand," he said.

Teresa Harris, a social worker and a Review Board member since 2001, was appointed the board's chairwoman. She has been serving as interim chairwoman since previous chairman Richard Brown of East Longmeadow resigned for personal reasons.

McDonnell also appointed Robin Powell of Granby to the board. Powell, a corrections worker, is a 30-year convert and the father of 12.

In the past three years, the board has investigated about 50 allegations of misconduct against 30 diocesan workers. Most allegations have been sexual abuse accusations against priests.

Following an investigation, the board makes a recommendation to the bishop. At least six priests have been removed from the ministry following such recommendations.


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