Judge allows Bishop Weldon accuser’s claim against Springfield diocese to advance to trial

The Republican - MassLive [Springfield MA]

March 17, 2023

By Stephanie Barry

A Hampden Superior Court judge issued a ruling advancing a lawsuit against the Springfield Catholic Diocese filed by a man who said he was gang-raped by the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon and other priests while an altar boy in the 1960s.

The case filed by “John Doe,” a Chicopee man, is now set for trial beginning April 24.

Lawyers for the diocese filed motions to dismiss claims against the diocese, members of its staff, a longtime attorney and contracted investigators. Judge Karen L. Goodwin issued a ruling Friday allowing most claims filed by Doe to survive.

A spokeswoman for the diocese declined comment on the ruling, citing the pending litigation.

The judge rejected arguments by the diocese that ecclesiastical law buffered it from several claims.

“This civil court can review and analyze documents to answer the core factual question without entanglement in church doctrine,” Goodwin wrote.

She also rebuffed claims that Doe filed his lawsuit 50 years too late, running afoul of the statute of limitations under the law.

Key among Goodwin’s findings was a quote cited in an internal email by diocesan lawyer John “Jack” Egan to church staff after Larry Parnass, a former editor with The Berkshire Eagle, asked in 2019 why Weldon’s name was not included on the diocese’s running list of “credibly accused” clergy, despite a document obtained by the newspaper showing that members of a review board found the man’s allegations to be solid.

“Remove the reference to Weldon being present … it sounds like he was watching,” Egan wrote after reviewing a 2018 letter in which review board Chairman John Hale found the man’s allegations credible.

“In the end it should be that the individual said Bishop Weldon never abused him,” Egan wrote in the email, which came to light a year later in an outside judge’s independent review.

According to Doe, Weldon, a revered church leader from 1950 to 1977, did more than watch.

“Some assaults involved other altar servers, one of whom was directed to force Doe onto a bed, where Doe’s head was covered and he was gang raped by Weldon, Rev. Edward Authier and Rev. Clarence Forand,” Goodwin wrote, noting that during one assault, Doe’s collarbone was broken.

“When Doe reported the abuse to his father, he was slapped and accused of lying. Doe had lost his memory of the sexual abuse by the time he was in high school,” Goodwin wrote.

Doe’s memories were revived in 2013. He initially brought the allegations to diocesan Vicar General Christopher Connolly and victim advocate Patricia McManamy the following year.

“Connelly and McManamy laughed in response and said ‘They are all dead,’” Goodwin cites in her ruling.

Weldon died in 1982.

Doe was put off by the diocese’s response to his report of abuse and did not complete an intake report in 2014, but revisited the issue in 2018, explicitly naming Weldon, whom Doe said “shared him and other youths.”

Parnass, who is now executive editor of The Republican, wrote a story for The Berkshire Eagle in May 2019 questioning why Weldon’s name was not on the list of credibly accused clergy, and the issue blew up.

The diocese hired retired Judge Peter Velis and a former police detective to conduct an independent review, which in 2020 found Doe’s allegations against Weldon and other clergy “unequivocally credible.”

The diocese revamped its policies regarding how it responds to reports of clergy abuse that dated back to the early 1990s, when the Catholic church was globally rocked by a flood of abuse and cover-up allegations.

McManamy and former investigator Kevin Murphy, a retired Massachusetts state trooper who investigated Doe’s allegations and drafted multiple, contradictory reports, were cut from the payroll.

After Velis issued his report in 2020, Weldon’s name and likeness were stripped from properties across the diocese, and his body was exhumed from a “prominent” spot in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery on Tinkham Road.