Bishop Accountability
  Bishop's Records at Issue Again

By Bill Zajac
The (Springfield MA) Republican
February 9, 2004

Springfield - An accusation of sexual abuse against the deceased executor of a former bishop's estate has raised questions about what documents the executor may have discarded.

William V. Derian, a 65-year-old Florida resident who grew up in Northampton, has filed a claim with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield accusing Monsignor David P. Welch of sexually abusing him as a minor.

A diocesan statement said Welch was "a highly respected priest and editor of our Catholic newspaper for 36 years with absolutely no other complaints."

Derian, a successful businessman who was appointed to an administrative position by former President Ronald Reagan, said he was abused multiple times when he was between 12 and 15 years old. The incidents occurred when Welch was assigned to St. Mary's Parish in Northampton in the early 1950s and was in charge of now defunct St. Michael's High School, he said.

The possible destruction of "personal and personnel" documents possessed by former Bishop Christopher J. Weldon has been at the center of a recent controversy in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

In September, the Rev. James J. Scahill, pastor of St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow, said the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the Springfield Diocese, told advisers that Weldon destroyed records that could have involved details about accusations of clergy sexual abuse.

Dupre denied making the statement and repeated his denial under oath several weeks later in a deposition that still hasn't been concluded.

During the deposition on Sept. 29, Dupre said that although he couldn't recall exactly what was said at a March 2002 Presbyteral Council meeting, he may have said, "Welch (as executor) would have gone through his personal papers and would have disposed of those papers no longer needed. That is what any executor would have done."

Weldon retired in the mid-1970s and died in 1982. Welch died in 1986.

Scahill said the recently filed claim of sexual abuse against Welch adds credibility to his accusation. Scahill said Welch's possible involvement in sexually abusing children raises questions about what type of files he would have been interested in destroying.

When Scahill made the accusation, Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, vicar general of the diocese, confirmed Dupre made a statement about "personal" files, not personnel files. He later amended his comments to say Dupre was talking about Weldon's executor destroying personal effects.

Most bishops keep their own files in addition to having records in diocesan archives, according to a sworn statement by the Rev. Daniel P. Liston, the diocese's official keeper of records.

A policy that was not adhered to very closely in the Springfield Diocese calls for documents such as accusations against priests being destroyed upon a priest's death or 10 years after an issue arises, according to Liston's deposition.

Other questions have been raised about the destruction of possibly legally sensitive records regarding clergy sexual abuse.

During Dupre's deposition, he was questioned about assigning a priest who was removed from parish ministry to organize diocesan archives, which include personnel records.

In the 1990s, Dupre assigned the Rev. Richard F. Meehan to organize the archives after Meehan had been removed from parish ministry for sexual misconduct.

Dupre said Meehan wasn't supposed to have access to "secret records" detailing allegations of sexual abuse in personnel files that were kept under lock and key. However, in answer to questions, Dupre indicated he wasn't sure how tight security was for the two keys for the files.

Meehan destroyed some records, but none were recent personnel files, according to Liston.

Derian has come forward with his accusations now because it has caused him tremendous emotional distress since the current clergy sexual abuse scandal began to unfold two years ago.

"I just can't get it out of my mind. I keep flashing back to it," said Derian, who believes the abuse is the cause of depression that was so severe at times that he was suicidal.

Derian said he came in contact with Welch through friends who were altar boys at St. Mary's Church and who often hung out on the steps of another church on Main Street in downtown Northampton.

"Father Welch would pull up in a black car, honk his horn and three or four of us would ride around town with him," said Derian, adding that Welch often talked about sex.

Welch often brought the boys to a lake in Greater Northampton, Derian said.

"He would insist that we all go swimming naked - and we did! He would sit on a wooden bench along the lake side and masturbate wearing his black clerical suit and white collar," said Derian, adding that he and the other boys were both impressed and intimidated by the clerical collar.

Welch's previous assignment was Holy Cross Parish in Holyoke, where he served as chaplain of Camp Holy Cross in Goshen.

Derian currently lives in Deerfield Beach, Fla., where he owns several businesses and is involved in many community projects.

When Derian originally filed the complaint, he listed the alleged abuser as David "Walsh."

Diocesan lawyers replied by saying no priest of that name ever served in the Springfield Diocese.

Derian's lawyer later amended the complaint with the correct spelling.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.