The diocese will seek fair and just settlements of abuse cases

By Bishop Thomas L. Dupré
Bishop of Springfield

I had the unfortunate duty to ask for and then be deposed under oath on Monday, Sept. 29[, 2003]. I characterized this as an “unfortunate duty” because I felt bound to publicly defend the reputation of the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, and Msgr. David Welch. It had been wrongly suggested that one of these men had been party to discarding official records of the diocese.

About a year and a half ago when I decided we would go through all our records to report any past allegations of child abuse to law enforcement, I sought to insure our records were intact. If they had not been, I would have informed law enforcement of any gaps. I asked John J. Egan, of Egan, Flanagan and Cohen, the law firm which has represented the diocese for more than 50 years to research our record keeping.

He reported to me he could only find two instances of records of the diocese leaving the chancery office. On some occasions, records would be sent to his office for copying and then returned. He also told me that Msgr. Welch told him, after the death of Bishop Weldon, that he, Msgr. Welch, as executor of Bishop Weldon’s estate, had gone through all the late bishop’s effects at Bishop Weldon’s home. He found some records he felt belonged to the diocese.

Those were all returned to the diocese. Other materials which belonged to Bishop Weldon were offered to his family and if his family did not want to keep them, they were discarded. In summary, I was reassured by Attorney Egan’s report that our records appeared complete.

I vaguely recall saying something about this in an off-hand manner in passing, perhaps in answer to a question at a meeting of our Presbyteral Council (a group of priests who advises the bishop). The time frame and my own openness with our priests would certainly allow for the possibility. Never would I or could I have said I had information that any of our records were discarded or destroyed by Bishop Weldon.

My information was just the opposite. I would have indicated that Msgr. Welch in his capacity as executor, would have disposed of personal papers no longer relevant or needed.

I said the deposition was an unfortunate experience because I regret having to appear to contradict the word of a priest of this diocese. I did so because I know I never said such a thing, and I felt that obligation to Bishop Weldon and Msgr. Welch. I did so publicly because, without prior notice to me or anyone in the diocese, the incorrect information was given by the priest in question to the local and Boston newspapers. So I felt the correction had to be equally public.

What I did should not be seen as any reflection on the ministry of Father James Scahill. I have known him always to be a hard working priest. On this matter, I believe he was simply mistaken. We confirmed that by polling more than 12 others who were present at that meeting, they simply did not hear what he said he heard. I do not see this as impeding our ability to work together for the people of his parish and the diocese.

These recent events may seem to obscure what has been my position as bishop of Springfield since the very first of the recent clergy abuse cases was filed. We are church, and we will respond to each case as church.

e have offered counseling to any who request it. Regardless of whether or not someone chooses to pursue a legal claim against the diocese, they are entitled to assistance. Each complaint brought to the diocese provides us with an opportunity to minister to someone who possibly has suffered serious harm. We do our best to respond with compassion.

In a pastoral context, it does not matter who was legally responsible. What matters is, how can we help to bind up the wounds?

I understand there may be criticism of the way we are doing it, but our commitment is unwavering. I have met with many victims of abuse over the last 10 years and will continue to do so as they request.

These abuse claims are proceeding in another arena – the legal system. This is a choice made by the victims and we respect it.

While in that arena, we are bound by its rules. Just as the victims’ attorneys pursue all their remedies, I am informed the attorneys for the diocese are required by the courts to respond within certain time frames. I have insisted this be done in a professional and non-confrontational manner. I am certain I share the same distaste for legal battles as anyone and it is doubly unsettling for a church. However, we respect our legal system, and until these matters are otherwise resolved, must proceed within its framework.

Although in other areas of our state, abuse cases have come to trial, none involving the Diocese of Springfield ever have. I hope to continue that record. We have already settled two of these new cases and I am informed several others are very close. We hope we can settle them all. My instruction to our legal advisors from the beginning has been that we want a fair and just settlement of every legitimate claim. That is why the mediation approach is one I support. One in which each individual claim is evaluated on its merits. We have the opportunity to give each case the individual consideration each victim deserves.

This is not a new position for the diocese. We have a track record of this. This is how we settled more than a dozen cases some 10 years ago in the nineties: through mediated settlements. It is my hope that all or most of these cases can be resolved fairly in that fashion. I want to assure you what happens along the road to that goal will not distract me.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.