July 4, 2020
By Caroline White
[PHOTO: The Springfield diocese plans to move the gravesite of the late Most Rev. Christopher J. Weldon, after an independent inquiry found cause to believe that Weldon, who oversaw the diocese from 1950 to 1977 and died in 1982, sexually abused an altar boy in Chicopee.]
Upon entering the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, visitors find themselves face-to-face with Jesus.
The religious figure’s nearly human-sized granite figure sits atop a 15-foot stone pillar above a sloping grass landscape, the dominant presence amid hundreds of gravestones in the Springfield cemetery.
Soon, that figure will disappear from its vaunted position at the cemetery, along with the remains of the man who lies below.
The monument was erected to honor the Most Rev. Christopher J. Weldon after his death in 1982. Late last month, a report commissioned by the diocese found that child sex abuse allegations against Weldon to be “unequivocally credible.”
Following the report, the current Springfield bishop, the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, ordered the monument to be taken down and Weldon’s remains to be moved and “marked with a simple gravestone.”
Diocese spokesperson Mark Dupont said that given the findings detailed in the report by former Springfield Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis, it was no longer appropriate for Weldon’s remains to be placed in “a high profile area that gives honor to him.” Velis was hired last July to prepare “an independent and outside” probe, with help from a chief investigator, Dennis O’Connor.
That step came years after the victim first reported his abuse, which occurred in the early 1960s, and after a former church insider claimed the diocese was attempted to cover up the assaults to protect Weldon’s reputation. The church did not list Weldon as “credibly accused” even though the diocese’s internal review board told the man it found his claim believable.
The Velis report confirmed that the diocese mishandled the allegations, leading former Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford, who now leads a task force on the issue, to conclude that the incidents examined by Velis “were nothing short of disgraceful.”
“Those who have failed to live up to their obligations or to carry out their responsibilities properly have been named, exposed and shamed,” Ford said.
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