Bishop Mitchell Rozanski Apologizes for Springfield Diocese ‘past Failures,’ Says He Will Meet Accuser of Bishop Christopher Weldon with ‘open Mind and with a Pastor’s Heart’
By Anne-Gerard Flynn
June 18, 2019
|The Most Rev. Mitchell Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, talks with reporters at a news conference on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. At left is Jeffrey J. Trant, director of the diocese's newly designated Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance.|
During a press conference called to highlight new efforts in addressing clergy sex abuse allegations, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski apologized for “past failures” and said his diocese is committed to investigating allegations of decades old clergy abuse of minors.
“Let me be clear on how deeply sorry I am for the past failures of our church to respond to the needs of victims and to protect them from abuse,” Rozanski said. “Our goal now is to deal compassionately and justly with those who come forward.”
He noted “many challenges” faced achieving this goal — a reference in part to recent news reports of his Review Board disputing an account by an alleged victim of clergy sex abuse who said he named the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon as one of his accused abusers when he went before the board in June 2018.
“But as recent news reports demonstrate, we have faced many challenges in achieving that goal, not the least of which is the reality that many victims only become fully aware of what happened to them decades after it first occurred,” said Rozanski who is to meet with the alleged victim Thursday.
“Investigating and being able to establish as credible these decades old sinful and criminal actions is not an easy task. But it is a task we remain committed to fulfilling with integrity,” he added.
The Sunday Republican had published a story in print and online June 18 about the challenge for victims in claiming accusations of clergy sex abuse that date back to the 1950s in a diocese where files of alleged perpetrators may have been destroyed.
Shortly before the meeting, diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont released a statement to The Republican saying that the diocese had reviewed its files and found two prior claims related to Weldon that were deemed not credible.
Asked about Thursday’s meeting, which was requested by the alleged victim, Rozanski said he is “certainly going to go into it with an open mind and with a pastor’s heart and be willing to listen."
“I will certainly work with Jeff (Trant) as we seek to review our procedures and see what we can do better," said Rozanski when asked about reports that the testimony of the alleged victim before the board last year was neither recorded nor extensively documented.
Rozanski’s press conference was partly called to formally introduce staff, including Trant, of the diocese’s newly designated Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance. The office is a restructured version of the department that oversees clergy sexual abuse allegations for the diocese.
Trant was introduced as director, and Li-Ling Lam-Waller, compliance officer.
A licensed certified social worker and certified psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner, Tran will work with victims while Lam-Waller will do education work in parishes around protection of children.
Trant will be present during Rozanski’s meeting with the alleged victim.
“First and foremost whenever a victim comes forward I am there to listen and to hear and to understand their experience so that is my expectation,” said Trant of the upcoming meeting. “I will be there to listen and to hear and to understand what they have to share."
Trant noted to reporters he has only been “on the job for a week.”
“My first priority is to get acquainted with past practice, policy and procedures," Trant said.
“I am not in a position to comment other than to say my first priority is to be able to understand and to identify are there opportunities for improvement, what are those opportunities and how do they align with past practice so we can be of service to victims who do come forward.”
He added he has been in contact with the Hampden District Attorney’s Office through a memorandum to “formalize all parties are on the same page with reporting" allegations of clergy sexual abuse involving a minor.
Trant does not serve on the diocesan Review Board, whose investigator is Kevin Murphy. Its current members include Theresa Sheehan Finnegan; Dr. Susan Cary; Anne Mislak; Thomas LaChiusa, licensed clinical social worker at the doctoral level; James H. Ross III; Marianne Triggs Smith; James A. Stankiewicz; the Rev. Robert S. White; and John M. Hale, J.D., chair, licensed clinical social worker.
Rozanski attended the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spring meeting last week in Baltimore, where much of the agenda dealt with how allegations of sexual misconduct against bishops should be handled.
The bishops had attempted to address this issue — long an issue unresolved in the Church as highlighted by the case of Theodore McCarrick and one that continues to impact alleged victims — at their fall meeting last year but the Vatican had asked discussion be put on hold until after the summit on clergy sex abuse was held in Rome in February at the request of Pope Francis.
Francis subsequently issued a set of policies or laws through an apostolic letter known as motu proprio and this set by the Latin name “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” that will be revisited in three years requiring clergy and members of religious order to report accusations of sexual abuse of minors to their superiors, and for allegations against diocesan bishops to be overseen by the metropolitan of the province which in New England is Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
The bishops took a number of steps including the creation by May 2020 of a centralized nationwide hotline for the reporting of such allegations involving bishops and allowing for lay involvement in accusations of sexual abuse of a minor by a bishop or cover-up of such abuse but did not vote to make lay involvement mandatory as many had hoped in terms of further check and balance to the process.
The bishops said they could not go beyond Vatican protocol, although the Vatican protocol states “the Bishops of the respective Province, individually or together, may establish lists of qualified persons from which the Metropolitan may choose those most suitable to assist in the investigation, according to the needs of the individual case and, in particular, taking into account the cooperation that can be offered by the lay faithful pursuant” and certain canons and that the “metropolitan is free to choose other equally qualified persons.”
Protocols voted by the bishops at their meeting would allow O’Malley in this province to select a lay person from the suggested lists to be involved in some capacity in allegations reported against a bishop here.
Rozanski said the Vatican protocols did not mandate this lay involvement but said he felt most bishops would follow it.
“It was not mandated by the Vatican because in many countries of the world there are not the lay experts available to help with this. We are bless in the United States that we have many lay experts with whom we can confer and I believe many of the bishops who were there - and I talked to many - feel lay involvement is a necessity and that bishops will commit to having lay people involved in this process.”
During their meeting, the bishops also voted on a document that relates to other restrictions they can impose on bishops, including on those who have resigned or been removed from office by the Vatican due to “grave acts of commission or omission.”
Who has ecclesiastical power over bishops besides the pope has long been a problem in how the Church has not addressed its crisis of clergy sex abuse of minors.
During their spring 2002 meeting in Dallas, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, faced with growing media investigations into how for years bishops transferred pedophile priests like Boston’s John Geoghan among parishes where they continued to abuse minors, issued the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as well as the companion document, “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Priests, Deacons, or Other Church Personnel.”
The charter, often referred to as the “Dallas norms” and revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018, was comprehensive in scope and called for the establishment of lay diocesan review boards to assess for bishops allegations of sexual abuse against priests and deacons, the reporting of any claims of sex abuse of a minor to public authorities and the permanent removal from ministry of priests and deacons for “even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor—past, present, or future.”
The priest or deacon found by bishops to be credibly accused could request laicization, which means loss of the clerical state and not just removal from ministry.
The norms allowed a bishop to ask for laicization by the Vatican without the consent of the accused as well. If laicization was not sought the credibly accused could be required to lead a life of prayer and penance and not to present himself as a priest.
However, the Dallas norms continue to depend on self-reporting by diocesans and oversight by bishops and never addressed what happens when allegations are made against a bishop.
In response to a question, Rozanski said he felt the protocols Francis released last month on mandatory reporting to superiors of allegations of abuse even against bishop’s “complete the circle" left open by the Dallas norms.
“In 2002, bishops were not specifically include in the Dallas charter. Merely because as bishops we answer directly to the pope. So, if bishops would have been included in that Dallas charter we would think it would not be approved as it was because of canon law and the discipline of the pope for his bishops," Rozanski said.
“What happened with the motu proprio that was issued in May and came after the February meeting with all of the heads of all the bishop conference all of the world is that Pope Francis gave us guidelines for dealing with bishops who mishandle clergy sexual abuse or abuse themselves. So, in doing that what Pope Francis did was really complete the whole circle of being able to discipline anyone - bishop, priest, deacon who either did not handle a clergy sexual abuse correctly or themselves offend.”
He added, "It brings to a complete circle the way we can handle these cases.”
The late Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre was indicted by a grand jury on child sexual assault charges dating back more than two decades in September 2004. The jury did not find Dupre guilty on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges in terms of destroying any related documents though the mother of the one of the alleged victims said she had mailed Dupre a letter about the alleged abuse of her son a year earlier and documents were said to have been removed under Dupre from diocesan files by a priest himself removed from the clerical state amid allegations of sexual abuse.
Dupre had resigned as bishop and left the diocese in February 2004 shortly after The Republican confronted him about the allegations.
The current controversy around Weldon stems from reporting by the Berkshire Eagle last month that a victim of alleged clergy sex abuse had appeared before the diocesan Review Board, named Weldon and two other priests as his alleged abusers and received a letter from the board in September that his allegations had been found credible.
The Berkshire Eagle story noted that Weldon’s name had not been added to a diocesan list of credibly accused clergy, but in response the board said in a follow-up story there was “no finding against” Weldon as the victim “indicated the former Bishop never abused them” though the victim maintained in that story that he had named Weldon as an abuser in the June 2018 meeting.
The board, composed of individuals with backgrounds in law, social and education, hears such testimony and makes recommendations for final determination of credibility to Rozanski.
Diocesan spokesperson Mark Dupont reiterated to the Berkshire Eagle that the board and the diocese’s own investigator found the victim’s allegations against two deceased priests – Joseph Clarence W. Forand and Edward Authier – credible.
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 of credibly abused clergy as a result of the earlier case.
The diocese has said it does not list priests who are accused of sexual abuse after their death — Authier, long-time pastor at St. Anne’s in Chicopee, died in 1970 — on their website as they are unable to defend themselves. However, it has settled suits filed against priests after their deaths.