Victims" Advocacy Group Rejects Bishop Rozanski's Apology for Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy
By Dan Glaun
February 11, 2016
|Several churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield have been designated to hold special events by Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski during the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis to begin Dec. 8, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and conclude on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016. (Republican file)|
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the victims advocacy group that has long clashed with the Catholic Church over its clergy sexual abuse scandal, is not accepting the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield's apology.
In a pastoral letter released on Ash Wednesday, the Most. Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski sought to welcome Catholics distanced from or disillusioned with the Church back into the fold. The letter included a direct apology for the Diocese's role in the sexual abuse scandal, which led to more than $12 million in settlements to dozens of victims.
"First and foremost, I apologize to the victims of clergy sexual abuse, their families and friends, and all those scandalized by the Church's failure to protect our young people and for any lack of diligence in responding," Rozanski wrote.
"Springfield's bishop is issuing an apology when he should be protecting kids, exposing predators, punishing enablers and releasing abuse records," wrote Barbara Dorris, SNAP's outreach director. "Tangible steps will do more to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded that all the words, gestures and apologies."
Allegations of sexual abuse in Springfield stretched to the top of the diocese; former bishop Thomas Dupre, who oversaw the first round of discipline against abusive priests when the scandal broke in the early 2000s, was himself accused of child molestation in 2004. Dupre resigned from the diocese and was criminally indicted, but those charges were later dropped due to the statute of limitations on the allegations.
Rozanski, who was the Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore before Pope Francis appointed him to lead the Springfield Diocese in 2014, has previously expressed sympathy for victims, though he said Wednesday's apology was the first to appear in a formal pastoral letter.
Springfield Diocese spokesman Mark Dupont rejected SNAP's criticism, writing in an email that the diocese is committed to helping victims.
"SNAP's response is hardly surprising and reveals yet again their lack of actual knowledge of the local facts. The Diocese of Springfield reports all allegations of abuse to law enforcement and state agencies. We cooperate fully with all investigative agencies. We remain fully committed to working with victims and their families," Dupont wrote. "It's unfortunate that SNAP did not check their facts before being so quick to condemn. Bishop Rozanski's apology to victims and their families was truly sincere, as is his commitment to be vigilant going forward."
The diocese's Policy for the Protection of Children and Youth, first adopted in 2003, includes a number of commitments to combating abuse, including offering support for victims, requiring training for clergy and making clergy mandatory abuse reporters.
In its statement, SNAP argued that the diocese should be focused on actively investigating and aiding the prosecution of abusive clergy, rather than seeking the return of alienated parishioners.
"Bishops' apologies often sound good but are largely public relations," Dorris wrote. "They don't protect a single child, expose a single predator, punish a single concealer or deter a single cover up. The diocese should take tangible steps so that the church no longer will need to give apologies. The goal should be no more victims."
In its letter, SNAP cited the cases of two former priests whose abuse allegations were found credible by the Church under a zero-tolerance policy for abuse instituted in 2002.
Albert Blanchard, accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old during the 1970s, helped lead a local support group until 2010, when Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen asked the Diocese about his role in the group.
And former priest David Farland was removed from the ministry in 2002 after the diocese found an abuse allegation credible. He was formerly a chaplain for the Springfield Fire Department.
Neither have been criminally charged, and a criminal case at this point could potentially run up against the statute of limitations issue that sunk Dupre's prosecution. But SNAP argued the diocese should be actively soliciting victims' accounts, with the goal of assembling possible criminal cases against both men.
"With real outreach by Rozanski, Farland and Blanchard might even be prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned, sparing others decades of devastating pain," Dorris wrote. "Rozanski should put announcements in every parish bulletin at the first opportunity, begging those who saw, suspected or suffered crimes by Blanchard or Farland to step forward and call police."