Diocesan board heard Bishop Weldon sexual abuse allegations, former member maintains
By Anne-Gerard Flynn
June 11, 2019
|Patricia Martin, a clinical psychologist at the doctorate level and a former member of the diocesan review board for clergy sexual abuse allegations, said a survivor she accompanied to testify before the board last June did alleged to the board that he had been abused by the late Bishop Christopher Weldon.|
When the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield initiated a review board in 1992 to hear testimony of clergy sex abuse victims, as well as that of alleged abusers, veteran clinical psychologist Patricia Martin was asked to volunteer as one of the initial members.
She did for six years, sometimes weekly, motivated in part as a mother of four children wanting to protect all youngsters from abuse, but knowing the board could only recommend to the bishop which allegations were credible to remove a priest from ministry.
Last year, Martin found herself involved with the review board again — this time in support of an alleged victim who told her by way of seeking advice that he had been abused multiple times and at multiple locations. He claimed he was abused at the hands of the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, as well as by at least two other now deceased priests, Joseph Clarence W. Forand and Edward Authier, at St. Anne’s Parish in Chicopee.
He wanted to know if he would be doing the right thing to go before the board to tell his story and asked Martin if she would she go with him if he did.
He did and what he said in terms of allegations against Weldon is now being disputed by the diocese as never having been made to the board. Martin, who had accompanied the man, recently told the Berkshire Eagle, which that broke the story, that the Springfield diocese is “lying” to protect Weldon, who served as its fourth bishop from 1950 through 1977 and built many of its schools and churches.
“This is the story he told,” said Martin of what the alleged victim told the board in June 2018. He confirmed it again through Martin on Monday for The Republican.
“In my 35 years of being a clinical psychologist, this was the worst abuse I heard of a darling little boy,” she said.
“This survivor had repressed memories that began to surface about six years ago and he came to feel he had to go to the church and tell them,” said Martin who said she felt the need to speak out as a practicing Catholic, as well as for the victim whom she said was not ready to be interviewed by the press, but was willing to have details of his abuse disclosed by her.
The alleged victim, after several years of counseling on his own, approached diocesan officials in December 2014, Martin said. He told them of his abuse and sought reimbursement for his counseling.
In April 2018, she said he recounted his story to the investigator who meets with alleged victims on behalf of the review board. That same month, the man met with Martin and two of his friends to discuss appearing before the review board.
“He was told he did not have to go before the review board, but he decided he want to go and tell his own story rather than have it told by the investigator,” Martin said. "There were at least a dozen people in the room. He told his story and it was gut wrenching because it is still so raw for him.”
She added, “Survivors often lose touch with where they are when they tell their stories. He broke down several times. Many of the review board members were in tears.”
“The survivor’s abuse started after his first communion in the 1950s when he became an altar server at St. Anne’s. It was happening to him repeatedly when it was 9 and 10, and it was rape,” said Martin who was with the alleged victim when he was allowed to visit the rectory where she said he told her he was taken to be sexually abused by Authier, Forand and Weldon.
The man said he was taken by Weldon and abused by him and others at other sites, and that the abuse ended after he was confirmed and did not return to church, Martin said.
The alleged victim had requested a letter from the board of its findings after his testimony. The Sept. 18 letter read by Martin to The Republican stated:
“On behalf of the diocesan review board we want to thank you for sharing details of your abuse as detailed in narrative relating to Bishop Christopher Weldon, Rev. Edward Authier and Rev. Clarence Forand. After reviewing the investigative report presented to the board by Kevin Murphy, listening to a narrative briefing by Dr. Patricia Martin and hearing your compelling testimony on June 13, 2018, we want to express our sincere sorrow for the pain and suffering you have endured. This letter, along with a copy of your request for the support you would like to receive from the diocese, will be forward to Bishop Mitchell Rozanski advising him that the diocese review board finds your testimony compelling and credible. As we explained to you the board has no other authority but to notify the bishop that we find your allegations credible.”
The letter is sign by John Hale, who chairs the diocesan board.
After the Berkshire Eagle published a story about the allegations against Weldon and the other two priests and questioned whether their names would be added to the diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy, Hale released a statement, saying, “There was no finding against Bishop Weldon as the individual also indicated that the former Bishop never abused them.”
In a later statement Hale said in part, “The Review Board has never found that the late Bishop Christopher Weldon, deceased since 1982, engaged in improper contact with anyone."
The diocese has said it does not list priests who are accused of sexual abuse after their death on its website of credibly accused clergy as they are unable to defend themselves. However, it has settled suits filed against priests after their deaths.
Forand had been named by another victim whose allegations were found credible before the priest’s death and Forand’s name is listed on the diocesan website as a result of the earlier case.
The diocesan review board in 1993 found credible allegations made a year earlier against Forand of sexual abuse of a minor over nearly a decade. Forand, then 75, retired but was allowed to continue in active ministry, serving parishes in Chicopee, Palmer and North Adams.
He was not publicly identified by the diocese as a priest with a credible allegation until 2004 after Republican reporter Bill Zajac sought comment for a story. The diocese said then Forand was told in 2002 that he could no longer present himself in public as a priest as required by child protection policies initiated that year by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.
Forand, who denied the allegations against him, was ordained in 1945 and died in May 2005 at age 87.
Authier, who was ordained in 1930, served as pastor of St. Anne’s Parish in Chicopee from Feb. 1, 1955 until his death Sept. 7, 1970. He concelebrated the parish’s 50th anniversary Mass with Forand, then parochial vicar at the parish, on Nov. 11, 1962, and Weldon officiated at groundbreaking ceremonies for Authier’s addition to the church on April 27, 1964.
Weldon looms large in diocesan history. His years as the diocese’s fourth bishop are associated with its growth as an evangelizing institution. There are also the years when pedophile priests were most active in terms of what allegations would come to be made in the years ahead.
The diocese has long maintained there is nothing in its archives to support allegations of sexual misconduct against Weldon who was accused in a suit filed in 2005 of abusing a minor at St. Michael’s Cathedral three times during the 1950s.
However, Weldon and others like the late Bishop Thomas Dupre, whom he ordained to the priesthood and was later removed by the Vatican from the clerical state over credible allegations of abuse, are said to have had exercised firm control over what was kept in the archives.
A 2018 book, “Death of an Altar Boy,” exploring the unsolved 1972 murder of Danny Croteau, 13, of Springfield, painted a damning portrait of Weldon as man who obstructed justice and may have sexually abused a young boy in the 1950s. The only publicly identified suspect in the Croteau case was Richard Lavigne, who was ordained by Weldon and removed from the clerical state by the Vatican in 2004 after dozens of sexual abuse allegations.
In 2016, Pope Francis said the Vatican could remove a bishop from office if found to not have properly handled abuse allegations.
The Springfield diocese has not yet responded to questions from The Republican regarding the Weldon allegations. Diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont told the Berkshire Eagle last week that review board proceedings are not tape-recorded and described meeting notes as “limited.”
Asked about the new allegations against Weldon, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, who established a clergy abuse hotline in March, said he has “asked the diocese to forward all reported allegations directly to my office.”
“We ask that all victims who wish to contact law enforcement directly, without the intervention of the church, do so, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred,” Gulluni said. “The clergy abuse hotline number is (413) 800-2958.”