Abuse allegations against former Springfield Bishop Christopher Weldon ‘unequivocally credible,' investigation finds
By Anne-Gerard Flynn
Springfield Republican via Mass Live
June 24, 2020
|The Most Rev. Christopher J. Weldon, seen here on July 24, 1970, was bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield from 1950 until 1977.|
|Retired judge Peter A. Velis speaks at a press conference Wednesday, June 24, 2020 about his investigation into allegations against former Springfield Bishop Christopher J. Weldon.|
Photo by Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen
A retired superior court judge’s review of sexual abuse allegations against former Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, who led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield for more than 25 years, found the accusations to be “unequivocally credible.”
Meanwhile, mandatory reporters in the diocese who first heard the alleged victim’s account failed to report the matter to law enforcement officials, according to the executive summary for a 350-plus page report released Wednesday by the diocese. The report is the product of an investigation by retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis, who was hired a year ago to investigate the matter.
Velis’ report concluded “the allegations of the Complainant of sexual molestation committed upon him by Bishop Christopher J Weldon, both as a principal, and as a ‘coventurer’ that included anal rape, indecent assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress are unequivocally credible. The allegations that were investigated and examined are not dubious, vague or ambiguous in any essentials nor are they the product of any chimerical conception, fabrication or schematic design. The unsavory and heinous nature of the offensive behavior attributed to the late bishop is clearly shocking.”
In an executive summary, Velis criticized the diocesan review board that heard the alleged victim’s account in June 2018.
“It was clear in my examination that the process included an inexplicable modification and manipulation of the reports received by and acted on by the Diocesan Review Board,” Velis wrote. “Additionally the complaint process was compromised in that mandatory reporters failed in their duties to report the allegations to prosecutorial authorities.”
Velis said that in “evaluating the actions of those involved in the Weldon assessment,” he found a “reluctance to fervently pursue an evaluation of allegations against [Weldon] due to his prominence and revered legacy in the religious community.”
Weldon died in 1982.
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski announced last July that Velis, who retired as a Hampden Superior Court judge in 2012, had been hired to investigate the allegations. Rozanski described Velis as a “truly objective person who will investigate the Bishop Weldon matter thoroughly, review how this situation has been handled by the diocese, and help identify opportunities for improvement in how the diocese handles these matters.”
The diocese described his hiring as “both warranted and the most prudent course of action” after what it called a “public disagreement” between the alleged victim and the diocesan review board.
Three months after the victim met with the board, he received a letter thanking him “for sharing details of your abuse as detailed in narrative relating to Bishop Christopher Weldon, Rev. Edward Authier and Rev. Clarence Forand.” The letter said the bishop would be advised that the board “finds your testimony compelling and credible.”
After the Berkshire Eagle published a story last spring about the allegations against Weldon and the other two priests — and questioned whether their names would be added to the diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy, as the alleged victim had expected — the review board’s chairman, John M. Hale, released a statement through the diocese, saying, “There was no finding against Bishop Weldon as the individual also indicated that the former Bishop never abused them.”
The alleged survivor, whose testimony before the board was witnessed by three individuals who accompanied him and said he did identify Weldon as an alleged abuser, then requested a meeting with Rozanski, where he reiterated the allegations.
After that meeting in June 2019, Rozanski filed a report on the allegations against Weldon with the Hampden County district attorney’s office.
People who make claims of clerical sexual abuse have those claims looked into by a diocesan investigator, who reports to the bishop and the diocesan review board. They may also give testimony before the board, as may the clergy member being accused. If the bishop accepts the board’s finding that an allegation is credible, the alleged victim may seek financial compensation from the diocese — though any such settlement is not an admission of guilt by the party involved.
The alleged victim who claimed abuse by Weldon did not have his claims of alleged abuse by the other two deceased priests disputed by the board. After his meeting with Rozanski, he stated his “impression was that the bishop ‘got it.’”
It is not clear whether he knew his allegation against Weldon would be investigated further. The appointment of Velis as investigator removed the diocese from having to issue any finding on the allegation against Weldon, though Velis had no powers to subpoena.
Earlier this year, Rozanski formed a task force headed by retired Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel Ford to review recommendations from Velis’ report.
Weldon’s 27 years as Springfield’s fourth bishop, starting in 1950, were influential in the growth of the diocese. However, they also have emerged as years when many allegations of sexual abuse by clergy occurred — as well as the murder of an altar boy in which a former priest, Richard R. Lavigne, remains the only publicly identified suspect.
Weldon has been accused of interfering with investigations into that murder. There have been reports that those in the diocesan hierarchy with ties to Weldon — who also had sexual abuse allegations made against them — destroyed files related to pedophile priests over the years.
Diocesan lawyers have denied any such documents were destroyed.
Weldon, who served as bishop from 1950 through 1977 and died in 1982, is the second Springfield bishop to be accused of sexual misconduct.
The late Thomas Dupre resigned as Springfield bishop in February 2004, a day after The Republican confronted him with allegations that he had abused two young men.
A grand jury investigation indicted Dupre on child sexual assault charges in September 2004, but not on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges. He was removed from public ministry by the Vatican in 2004. He was never charged with two counts of child rape because then-Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett said they fell outside the statute of limitations. Dupre died in 2016.