Diocese Detective Is on the Job

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
April 25, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The man hired by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield to check allegations of sexual abuse is a retired state police officer who has investigated more than 100 homicides.

Kevin Murphy, who retired in June after 30 years on the job - the final 22 with the Northwestern district attorney's office - was hired this month by the diocese to look into allegations of sexual abuse made against priests and other diocesan workers.

The new position was created to help the diocesan Review Board streamline investigations. The nine-member, all-lay Review Board, formerly known as the Misconduct Commission, previously investigated complaints, determined whether they were credible and then made recommendations to the bishop for possible action.

Former board chairman James L. Bell repeatedly said he and the other panel members, all of whom are volunteers, were frustrated because they felt their investigations took too long. It was something for which the panel was criticized by victims.

Bell and diocesan officials said that in addition to speeding up the process, they believe Murphy may bring expertise to the investigations.

Murphy declined comment for this story, but the new bishop, the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, and Laura F. Reilly, diocesan victim outreach coordinator, said they were unsure if it would be a full-time position.

"I don't know; actually I hope not," McDonnell said.

Murphy has his first assignment. He is investigating statements by three brothers who grew up in Greenfield and who have accused the Rev. Ronald Wamsher of abusing them when they were minors.

Wamsher has denied the allegations made in the suit filed by the brothers.

The case was handed to Murphy after the Review Board earlier this month found the allegations merited investigation.

Wamsher, a former parish priest, who most recently had been working on the panel that considers marriage annulments, was placed on an immediate paid leave of absence last week by McDonnell pending the outcome of Murphy's investigation.

Reilly said the investigation will be conducted as quickly as possible. When it is complete, the Review Board will make a recommendation to the bishop for action if warranted.

Meanwhile, Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who represents more than 20 plaintiffs with complaints of sexual abuse against the diocese, welcomed the hiring of an investigator, but said the diocese should be more proactive with investigations.

Stobierski said one of his clients, Trina L. Cysz, 32, of Belchertown, twice notified diocesan lawyers she was accusing the Rev. John J. Bonzagni of abusing her sexually when she was a child. Bonzagni denies the accusations. When she became convinced the diocese wasn't going to investigate her complaint, she filed suit against the diocese last year.

The diocese said Cysz should have contacted the Review Board, not diocesan lawyers.

The complaint still hasn't been investigated, and Bonzagni remains in ministry at St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Lenox.

"I'd love for my client to sit down with the diocese's investigator," Stobierski said.

Also, the diocese has never investigated the Rev. James A. Sipitkowski. In a sworn statement, the Rev. Paul E. Manship said that Sipitkowski gave "significant amounts of church money" to a young man to whom he made sexual advances.

The diocese said the matter was never investigated because no alleged victims came forward to report it. Sipitkowski is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Easthampton. He has declined to comment.

Murphy, 55, earned a degree in industrial engineering at Springfield Technical Community College in the early 1970s. He took the state police exam in 1972 after learning he could make more money in law enforcement.

He started out in the Russell barracks, then moved on to the crime prevention and control unit in Berkshire County. Six months later, he was assigned to Northampton, where he remained for 22 years and where he investigated 110 murders, by his count.


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