Vicar general of Springfield diocese won’t accept reappointment, says he was ‘unfairly’ portrayed in Weldon report
By Anne-Gerard Flynn
Springfield Republican via MassLive
August 03, 2020
|In this March 30, 2015 file photo, the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, conducts the blessing of the oils that are used in the sacraments during the year as part of the Chrism Mass at St. Michael's Cathedral. Assisting him at right is Monsignor Christopher Connelly, vicar general and cathedral rector, under Rozanski and Bishop Emeritus Timothy McDonnell, far left.|
Photo by MARK M.MURRAY
Fallout continues in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield as the diocesan vicar general, the Rev. Monsignor Christopher Connelly, will not seek reappointment, saying he was “unfairly and unfavorably portrayed” in the recent report into allegations of sexual abuse by the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon.
Connelly’s announcement coincides with letters having circulated in the religious community in which retired priest James Scahill, an outspoken advocate on behalf of victims of sex abuse within the Catholic church, called for the removal of the vicar based on the results of the report by retired Judge Peter A. Velis. The vicar is second only to the bishop in the diocesan hierarchy.
In the report, made public on June 24, Velis found allegations by a former altar boy against Weldon were “unequivocally credible.” The report was also critical of the diocese’s handling of the case prior to the call by the current bishop, the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, for the independent investigation last summer.
“I am calling for the immediate removal and replacement of Connelly as vicar general and rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral,” Scahill said when asked about his letter and Connelly’s reaction to it. “Christopher Connelly is doing what I am very opposed to – that is employing smoke and mirrors (and) dodging the truth.”
Connelly, meanwhile, said his appointment as vicar ceased on June 10 as a result of Rozanski being named archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Louis, where he will move later this month. “Before Father Scahill’s request, I had already indicated to our bishop that when a new bishop moves in, I would not accept reappointment as vicar general, that I had done it,” Connelly said.
He added, “My intent was not to be reappointed and when I saw the report that confirmed it because of the way I thought I was unfairly and unfavorably portrayed.”
Connelly, who is quoted in the report as describing his role in this review process as “strictly pastoral,” was one of the first members in the diocesan clerical hierarchy with whom the complainant met.
The complainant, interviewed in the report, maintains he told Connelly that Weldon abused him, something Connelly denies, but that Scahill, the former pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in East Longmeadow, says he believes to be true based on the report’s narrative.
The two priests talked by phone after Connelly received the letter from Scahill in mid-July, but differ in their accounts. Says Scahill, “If Connelly was no longer vicar general he would have not have defended the fact he was not going to step aside, which he did in our conversation on July 14.″ Connelly says the topic of him “stepping down” was not discussed in their conversation.
Connelly said, “I called Father Scahill to offer him an explanation of my meeting with the victim as he thought the victim was not treated fairly.”
Scahill has had a long history of what he calls “speaking truth to power.” He had more than one public battle with diocesan bishops, particularly the late Thomas Dupre, over the handling of clergy sexual abuse cases, and was deposed twice in legal cases over his insistence that Dupre, during a meeting with priests, said Weldon had destroyed files related to such cases.
His parish refused to pay a required tax to the diocese for more than a year, beginning in 2002, until the diocese stopped financial support of the Rev. Richard Lavigne, who was not removed from ministry by the Vatican until 2004. Lavigne, who was convicted of child molestation in 1992, has been the subject of dozens of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and remains the only publicly identified suspect in the 1972 murder of altar boy Danny Croteau.
Dupre himself was indicted on child rape charges in 2004, including allegations by a boy whose family reached out for help to Scahill. He was never prosecuted because the charges fell outside the statute of limitations at the time, but Dupre was removed from ministry by the Vatican shortly after the indictment.
“You cannot truly move forward in an attempt to build a better institution on a garbage heaps of lies, cover-ups and glossings over,” said Scahill, who made international headlines in 2010 when he called for the resignation of the Pope Benedict XVI over the church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse cases. “We have had the Velis report, and, now, the big question is, ‘What’s next? The institutional church is completely incapable of policing and correcting itself.”
“All the things the church has done (in terms of the protection of children) have been done because they were caught,” said Scahill. He said he believes, based on the Velis report, that there should be further investigations done into Weldon’s influence on and relationship to law enforcement agencies that investigated Lavigne.
The report did reveal “ten boxes ‘marked Weldon’ that are covered with mold” in the possession of the diocese.
Scahill, who is interviewed in the report about a 2005 meeting he said was with a different survivor with allegations against Weldon, called the complainant in the report “horrifically re-abused.”
“The victim was horrifically re-abused in terms of the way he was treated by the diocesan investigator Kevin Murphy, most members of the review board, and notably its director Patricia McNamany and Vicar General Connelly,” said Scahill. The complainant first met in December 2014 with McNamany, a licensed clinical social worker then director of the diocesan child protection office, and Connelly.
“This survivor came forth with great courage in 2014 and received justice in 2020. They left him hanging for years, shuttling him around and not reporting his allegations to the proper authorities,”Scahill said. “It was because of the persistence of the survivor, his support group and Patricia Martin and pressure by the media, specifically, The Berkshire Eagle, that, in July 2019, the bishop appointed Velis and said, ‘I demand the truth.’ It is easy to demand the truth when it is popular.”
Murphy, a retired State Police detective, and McNamany are no longer employed by the diocese. The report helped usher in a new diocesan task force to implement recommendations from the report. The new Office of Safe Environment and Victim Support is headed by social worker Jeffrey Trant.
Three new investigators have been hired by the diocese this year to investigate allegations of clerical sexual abuse, and the diocese recently signed an agreement to report any such allegations first to the appropriate district attorney and only to begin its own investigation when cleared to do so by law enforcement.
There have been resignations from the diocesan review board in the wake of the Velis report on the basis of how the board is portrayed in the report.
The report was “not a criminal proceeding” and its findings are based on interviews with the complainant, members of the diocesan hierarchy, review board members and others related to the investigation as well as supporting documents.
The report determined that Rozanski, who has served as bishop here since 2014 and who will be installed as archbishop of St. Louis on Aug. 25, “never saw any investigative reports regarding the complainant’s allegations against Weldon.” It also found that the diocesan board as well never saw Murphy’s signed report in which the complainant is said to have “told Murphy he was molested by Weldon” but only a modified one that did not contain that statement.
Connelly said he doesn’t “find fault” with the report’s conclusion, but wishes “there was not the discrepancy initially.” He said he supervised all diocesan offices as vicar general, adding, “Ordinarily I did not get involved in the (review) process with victims.” In the case of the complainant about Weldon, he said he did so at the request of another monsignor whom had met first with the victim.
“I was willing to meet with this victim,” Connelly said. “I did do it, and I regret that my recollection of that meeting and his are so very different. I am also puzzled that throughout this process there is a lot of discrepancy and confusion. I am puzzled by that is well.”
He added, “It was never my intent to cause any additional harm to this victim.”
“The name of Weldon was not divulged to me. Our meeting was not about Bishop Weldon, it was about another deceased priest. Had it mentioned that name it would have been in Patti’s (McNamany’s) follow-up letter. Her letter just mentions we did get an accusation committed against Father Clarence Forand. It does not mention Bishop Weldon,” Connelly said.
Connelly was elevated to the position of vicar general by now Bishop Emeritus Timothy McDonnell and continued under Rozanski.
Mark Dupont, diocesan spokesman, confirmed Rozanski received “Father Scahill’s letter” and said “Connelly prior to this letter had informed (Rozanski) that he would not accept re-appointment as vicar general. He does, however, continue to serve as rector (of the cathedral).”