Associated Press [New York NY]
September 8, 2021
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield on Wednesday promised to adopt a series of measures intended to improve its handling of sexual abuse allegations.
The measures were recommended by a task force the diocese commissioned more than a year ago amid criticism of its handling of complaints. The panel issued its final report Wednesday and Bishop William Byrne said he will accept its suggestions.
As part of its new plan, the diocese said it will overhaul its policies to be more timely and transparent when responding to complaints, and it promised accountability for those who carry out abuse or fail to report it.
It also vowed to issue a statement acknowledging the trauma that has been caused by representatives of the church, “and the failure of diocesan leadership to respond adequately.”
The plan drew fire from an attorney who represents victims of clergy abuse in Springfield. Mitchell Garabedian said it’s nothing more than an attempt to make the diocese “appear as though it can protect children.”
“History has taught us that the Diocese of Springfield has been involved criminally in the wholesale sexual abuse of children for decades, cannot be trusted, and is interested primarily in financial gain,” Garabedian said in a statement.
The diocese has already made some changes recommended by the task force, including an agreement with prosecutors to immediately refer any clergy members accused of abuse. It will also provide independent legal counsel to an internal office that responds to abuse allegations.
An educational program intended to prevent sexual abuse also will be implemented at every parish, the diocese said.
The diocese created the task force amid criticism over its handling of abuse allegations against former Bishop Christopher Weldon, who died in 1982. An independent review later concluded the complaints were “unequivocally credible.”
Earlier this year, a former altar boy who says he was abused by Weldon filed a lawsuit accusing the diocese of a cover-up to protect Weldon’s reputation.
In June, the diocese added 40 names to its list of church employees who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct involving a child. That was in addition to 21 already on the list. The change was made based on an expanded definition of what constitutes a credible allegation, the diocese said.