Former DCF official now heads Springfield Diocese’s response to clergy sex abuse

WAMC, Northeast Public Radio [Albany NY]

April 11, 2023

By Paul Tuthill

Michael Collins said he’ll continue reforms started in 2019

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has a new person in charge of its office that responds to clergy sex abuse claims.

Michael Collins, a social worker with more than 25 years of experience working in the state’s foster care system most recently as the head of the Springfield office of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF), is the new director of the diocese’s Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance.

His appointment was announced by Bishop William Byrne.

“He brings a vast amount of understanding on best practices for addressing child sexual abuse and my hope is he will continue our church’s transformation into a more trauma-informed and responsive institution,” Byrne said.

The work done at DCF is “tough,” acknowledged Collins, who said he “loved the experience” because being of service to others is “very-very rewarding.”

“When this opportunity came along, I felt with my experience as a social worker with DCF and my strong upbringing in Springfield that this is a perfect opportunity for me and something I want to be part of,” Collins said.

He succeeds Jeffrey Trant, who left the position last fall after four years. Under Trant, a number of reforms were put in place that have won praise from the survivor community.

Changes include a memorandum of understanding with the three district attorneys’ offices whose jurisdictions cover western Massachusetts. It requires that allegations of sexual abuse are first investigated by law enforcement.

The public list the diocese maintains of “credibly accused priests” now includes the names of clergy who were deceased by the time abuse allegations were made. Members of religious orders, clergy from other dioceses, and lay employees are also on the list.

Collins said he is committed to continuing the reforms.

“It is not recreating the wheel but its going in an assessing the current systems and see what’s working,” Collins said.

He also plans to emphasis the prevention work the office is responsible for.

“That will be a major part of my piece of this,” Collins said.

Recommendations from an independent task force on the diocese’s response to sexual abuse are also being implemented. That strategic plan released in 2021 came with a four-year timetable.

Byrne said he is pleased with the progress.

“We wish we could do things with more speed, but we want to do them right,” he said.

After the press conference introducing Collins, Byrne prayed in front of Saint Michael’s Cathedral where two Children’s Memorial Flags are displayed in observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“We ask you Lord to bring them healing … bring them justice,” Byrne said.