DAs join to provide new resources to clergy abuse survivors

A group gathers to protest with placards outside an inquiry into child sex abuse in Sydney in 2016.

Prosecutors in Western Massachusetts are joining to help families affected by clergy sexual abuse, bringing a public sector resource to bear on a continuing global problem.

Representatives of the district attorneys' offices in the four western counties of Massachusetts are looking for ways to assist clergy abuse survivors.

At the same time, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield said it is revising how it reports instances of clergy abuse to prosecutors, in light of questions about its follow-through.

On Tuesday, citing his dissatisfaction with how the diocese has gone about reporting abuse, the Hampden County district attorney announced a new telephone hotline.

"This hotline is created to allow victims to report directly to law enforcement any allegations of any sexual crimes committed by a member of the clergy," said District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni. "I have established this hotline so the rights of victims are preserved and any allegations can be properly vetted and investigated by law enforcement where appropriate."

During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Gulluni said a review by his staff found gaps in clergy abuse cases supposedly referred by the diocese.

"Given these reviews in the past several months, I am dissatisfied with the system in place and in the inconsistency of reporting," Gulluni said.

The hotline will be staffed by state police detectives trained in responding to cases of sexual assault.

Beyond creation of the hotline, district attorneys in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties are working to improve how they respond to requests for information from families.

They also plan to meet next week with staff of Attorney General Maura Healey to consider a coordinated approach to how their offices handle inquiries from survivors, according to local prosecutors.

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington and a representative from Healey's office attended a "listening and dialogue" session the diocese convened Feb. 10 at St. Joseph's Church in Pittsfield. The session raised questions about the church's commitment to countering abuse, according to a person familiar with the issue.

The joint effort by Western Massachusetts prosecutors is, in part, a response to efforts by Rebecca Koske, of South Hadley, to determine whether her father's 2011 report of a sexual assault by former Rev. Eugene Honan, who once served in North Adams, was reported to prosecutors.

As The Eagle has reported, Koske was told by representatives of the Hampden and Hampshire-Franklin district attorneys' offices that they did not have that documentation in their files.

"They can absolutely confirm that they never received my father's report," Koske said.

Steven Gagne, the first assistant district attorney for Hampshire-Franklin, has said his office can find no record of receiving a report regarding Richard Koske's reported assault by Honan in the rectory of the former St. Mary of the Assumption church in Northampton.

Mark Dupont, the spokesman for the diocese, said the church carried through with its commitment to notify law enforcement of assault cases, including with the Koske case.

"There is no doubt on our part that letters were sent in 2011 regarding [the] Koske matter," Dupont said.

The diocese has produced copies of a letter dated 2011 that provided basic details on Richard Koske's assertion that he was assaulted as an adult not only by Honan, but earlier, as a young man, by two other diocesan priests.

Dupont said the diocese has been in touch with area district attorneys' offices about the documentation. He said new steps will be taken to avoid future doubt about the diocese's reporting of abuse cases.

"In order to avoid any future issues, the diocese has decided it will now send any future notifications via certified mail, with return receipt requested," Dupont said.

In his remarks Tuesday, Gulluni did not accuse the diocese of false statements about its handling of abuse reports. But he came close to doing so.

"This hotline is a step to rectify and improve the reporting system to ensure victims claims are heard, addressed and respected," he said, according to MassLive.com.

In a statement on his office's website, Gulluni says he acted after his staff examined details in a recent two-page report by the diocese on its response to clergy sexual abuse.

Though the report cites 15 cases that it reported to Gulluni's office in 2018, the office did not receive that number of reports.

"Following a period of due diligence," the statement says, "it is believed [that] the publicly stated reports on the number of case referrals to the relevant district attorneys are inaccurate."

Dupont said the discrepancy is due to the fact that six of the cases were anonymous or were reported to the diocese through attorneys and no actual intake meeting with a survivor was conducted that would result in notification to prosecutors.

Gulluni said Tuesday the hotline was created to provide a new means for survivors to report abuse and suggested that the new public means of reporting, outside the church's own channels, is needed.

"What has been found is not sufficient nor a best practice in how allegations such as these are to be reported to this office," the statement said.

"I am asking for anyone who is a victim of clergy sexual abuse to please contact law enforcement directly, even if it is an old allegation that you think has gone unaddressed, please report it to law enforcement directly."

The work by local prosecutors comes amid renewed attention to the clergy abuse crisis by prosecutors and grand juries nationwide, and by the church itself.

Olan Horne, of Chester, who is about to start the second week of a hunger strike in support of fellow abuse survivors, said Tuesday he is heartened by the move to create a hotline, something he has sought for many years.

"I'm glad to see this age group step up," said Horne, referring to Gulluni and Harrington, two relatively young district attorneys.

Last week, Pope Francis convened a landmark sexual abuse prevention summit in Rome attended by 200 of the church's top officials.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.