Report of Sexual Abuse by Late Bishop Filed with Hampden Count DA
By Larry Parnass
June 21, 2019
Christopher J. Weldon, a longtime Catholic bishop for the Springfield Diocese, now stands formally accused of sexually abusing an altar boy.
Three weeks after denying that it had received a credible accusation against Weldon of molestation, the diocese Thursday filed an initial report of a claim of such abuse with the Hampden County District Attorney's Office.
That step came after the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, the current bishop, heard directly that day from a Chicopee man who says Weldon was one of several clergy in the Springfield Diocese who sexually abused him in the early 1960s, when he was 9 or 10.
By speaking Thursday with the alleged victim, Rozanski was able to reset the clock for the diocese in terms of this man and to comply with a request by District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni that allegations be forwarded to his office.
"My impression was that the bishop `got it,' " the man said in a statement of his meeting with Rozanski. The alleged victim, now in his late 60s, presented his story during a two-hour meeting held at his request.
Meantime, a spokeswoman for Mercy Medical Center in Springfield would not say Friday whether allegations against Weldon have led officials to rethink use of the former bishop's name.
The medical center oversees operations of the Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital at 175 Carew St. in Springfield. It is named for the bishop who oversaw the diocese, which includes Berkshire County, from 1950 to 1977. Weldon died in 1982.
Rozanski's meeting with the Chicopee man came several years after the man made his first complaint of abuse to the diocese and a year after he told his story to the diocese's review board.
Though the board confirmed in a September 2018 letter that it found the man's claims "compelling and credible," that panel's leader, John Hale, issued a statement May 31 denying that Weldon had been named as an abuser.
Hale's statement referred only to allegations deemed credible against two other priests, Edward Authier and Clarence Forand, both now deceased.
That stance by the diocese was challenged not only by the man who claimed abuse, but by three people interviewed by The Eagle who attended the man's presentation to the review board in June 2018. All three of them — Patricia Martin, a clinical psychologist; Brian Hetzel; and Rocky Thompson — attended Thursday's meeting to support the Chicopee man. They were joined by another ally, Olan Horne.
After sitting with Rozanski, the Chicopee man urged people with untold stories of clergy abuse to come forward.
"I want to tell all survivors out there that you don't have to be silent anymore," he said. "You are not going to be hurt again. There are safe allies who want to help you. You do not have to carry the secrets of your abusers anymore."
Mark Dupont, the diocese's spokesman, said the man's meeting with Rozanski and Jeffrey Trant, newly appointed director of the church's Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, was documented. Later on Thursday, a report was filed with Gulluni's office.
Dupont said the man "explicitly stated that he had been sexually abused by former Bishop Christopher Weldon in the early 1960s. Both Bishop and Mr. Trant appreciate the courage it takes any person, including this individual, to share such a traumatic story of abuse."
Dupont said Rozanski is considering next steps for the diocese regarding Weldon, in light of the fact that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, at a meeting this month, set new policies on how to handle allegations involving bishops.
Those rules are not yet implemented, Dupont said.
A spokeswoman for Trinity Health of New England, which manages Mercy Medical Center, confirmed Friday the organizations are aware of the abuse allegations involving Weldon.
"The referenced matter is still under investigation and we do not have further comment at this time," said Amy Ashford, in response to questions from The Eagle.
When asked to clarify the meaning of "referenced matter," Ashford said "allegations against the former Bishop." She declined to elaborate on steps the institution might or might not be taking regarding Weldon.
A statement Ashford provided began by noting the hospital's values.
"Mercy Medical Center and its affiliates remain committed to be places of transformation and healing," it said.
Last fall, Trinity Health, a Catholic institution, issued an open letter strongly critical of how the church hierarchy has handled the clergy abuse crisis and has failed "to protect and care for vulnerable people."
"As a Catholic health ministry, we are ashamed of the willful neglect and persistent denial and cover-ups within the Church," said the letter, signed by 15 directors and members of the Catholic Health Ministries. "Sexual abuse is despicable and criminal, and all violators should be prosecuted fairly and without delay."
"We are counting on Church leaders in the United States and worldwide to be contrite, transparent and unwavering in addressing this crisis," the letter said. "We expect Church leaders to follow up by investigating swiftly, proactively and openly to uncover the remaining secrets and facilitate the healing worldwide."
The letter closes with bullet points, one of which reads: "Trinity Health has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind. We take swift and appropriate action when people violate others' security and well-being."
This winter, Gulluni's office created a hotline to receive complaints of clergy sexual abuse. And in May, the district attorney reaffirmed his wish to investigate claims. To report abuse, people can contact the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to Gulluni's office at 413-800-2958.
In a statement, Gulluni said, "We understand the resilience it takes for victims to come forward and speak to their past suffering but even an old allegation that you think has gone unaddressed needs to be reviewed by law enforcement."
Gulluni's office said that detectives have been busy handling complaints through the hotline. The office could not be reached for comment Friday.
"The District Attorney would like to thank all those who called the hotline, commend them for their courageousness and encourage any other victims to call as well," the office said in a May 2 statement. "No matter the age of the complaint or whether it had previously been reported, any victim of clergy sexual abuse should contact law enforcement directly."
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com , at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.