Objections Raised over Appointees

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
November 27, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - An outspoken priest and several alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse said a priest's presence on the panel that reviews such abuse allegations will deter others from bringing complaints to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

However, the diocese's victim advocate, Laura F. Reilly, said that a person can request that the recently appointed priest not be present when an allegation is brought to the Review Board.

"This is a sensitive issue. (New Review Board member) Father (Robert S.) White agreed that he will not attend any meeting in which a victim requests he not be there," Reilly said.

White refused comment, saying, per agreement of the Review Board members, the panel's chairperson is the only board member who will respond to media inquiries.

The diocese Monday announced that for the first time an alleged clergy abuse victim and a priest have joined the previously all-lay, nine-person Review Board, which was known as the Misconduct Commission when it was formed 12 years ago. The board hears complaints made against priests and other church personnel and then makes recommendations to the bishop.

East Longmeadow priest the Rev. James J. Scahill, a victim advocate and outspoken critic of the church hierarchy regarding clergy abuse, criticized the "ecclesiastically myopic" U.S. bishops policy for the provision that states at least one priest should serve on all diocesan Review Boards.

"Jesus would have preferred a grass roots approach that would have included lay people - the real people of the church - being involved in developing a policy," Scahill said.

Scahill said he was not upset that he was not asked to be on the board.

"If I was asked, I would have refused," Scahill said.

Scahill also said a victim shouldn't be on the panel.

"It's a matter of consistency. A victim on the board without a priest would shift the balance against an alleged abuser," Scahill said.

Alleged clergy abuse victims Martin P. Bono of Chicopee and Stephen J. Block of Springfield, both of whom have settled clergy abuse suits with the diocese this year, each favors no priest on the board but would like to see a victim on the panel.

"Having a victim on the board and not a priest is the price the church pays for years of abuse," said Bono, who brought his allegation of abuse before the board two years ago.

Bono called the naming of White to the board a "slap in the face of future survivors of abuse who will not come forward with complaints."

Bono said he has an appointment to meet next week with the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, bishop of the Springfield Diocese, to discuss the matter.

Block, who never brought his allegation to the Review Board, said he believes a priest on the board represents "an intimidation tactic by the bishop to keep people from coming forward."

In making the announcement, a diocesan spokesman stated that the inclusion of the two adds balance and credibility to the Review Board.

Victim advocate Reilly said the board has made several changes the past couple years in an effort to be sensitive to the needs of those bringing a complaint forward.

At one-time, the board would not hear an allegation from someone who was pursuing a legal claim against the diocese. That policy was removed two years ago.

Also, a year ago a new policy was created in which a person doesn't have to appear before the board. The accuser can have Reilly speak on the person's behalf before the board.

"For some people, it is emotionally too difficult to face the board with such personal information," Reilly said.

She added that in some cases, the presence of a priest on the board may help the accuser.

"There are some victims, not a majority, who want to reconnect with the church. The presence of a priest on the panel is one small step in that direction," Reilly said.

Also, when accusers initiate contact with the diocese to report an allegation of abuse, Reilly now is the first contact in the process. Upon contact, Reilly explains the process in detail in order to help the person decide whether he or she wants to bring the allegation forth.

"Previously, Review Board members were the first contact on a rotation system. There is much more consistency now," Reilly said.


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