The retired Pittsfield judge who formerly led an independent task force on sexual abuse for the Diocese of Springfield has stepped down from t…
SPRINGFIELD — It took David O’Regan 40 years, he says, to build the courage to admit that, as a boy in 1962, he was abused sexually by a priest.
Michael Carpino says he was abused by the same priest in 1973, and the Diocese of Springfield paid him a $75,000 settlement in 2008. But, it wasn’t until Wednesday that Carpino and O’Regan could find the name of their abuser on the diocese’s list of credibly accused abusers.
The late Richard Ahern, who served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Pittsfield from 1970 to 1976, was among the 41 names that the diocese added Wednesday to its list, which now stands at 61.
Ahern’s inclusion on the expanded list Wednesday brought “some closure,” but it didn’t erase the hurt of the decades during which the diocese refused to publicly acknowledge the abuse, Carpino said. It also left him wondering: Why did it take until now for the diocese to name Ahern, and what additional names might the list still be missing?
“They settled with me financially [in 2008], but they didn’t acknowledge it publicly,” said Carpino, 61, who grew up in Pittsfield before moving in 1982 to Colorado, where he resides. “Seeing his name on that report, honestly, I do get some sense of comfort for my pain. But, there is also some sense of betrayal there for hiding the truth for so many years.”
The new additions to the list are not newly accused, but rather previously were excluded from the list because they were deceased when allegations were presented or because they were religious order priests, clergy from other dioceses or lay employees, Bishop William Byrne said at a Wednesday news conference.
Byrne, who was installed as bishop in December, previously said the expansion of the list was informed by feedback from survivors and their family members, who said that “the way the diocese responded to their reports of abuse was re-traumatizing and re-victimizing.”
For survivors of sexual abuse, seeing the names of their abusers can help lend their experiences a sense of acknowledgement or validation, Carpino and O’Regan said, although Carpino added that reading a name can reawaken some emotional stress. Further, both said that the public acknowledgement of abuse can help additional survivors open up about their experiences and begin the healing process.
“Until a survivor does come forward and admits that they were abused, healing is impossible,” said O’Regan, 71, who lives in Warren. “I swore that I was going to take my secret to the grave. If anyone found out I was abused by a priest, I thought about it: I probably would have killed myself because of the shame and the guilt and the humiliation that goes on with that type of a crime.”
Terry McKiernan, co-founder of the nonprofit BishopAccountability.org, said Wednesday that the expanded list is “not only a much better list than it used to be, but a much better list than some other lists that are out there.” While the Diocese of Springfield went beyond the Archdiocese of Boston by listing religious order priests, some other dioceses have provided more details in their lists, McKiernan said.
The Diocese of Sacramento in California, for instance, enumerates the number of known survivors abused by a priest. The Diocese of Baltimore also describes abuse in some detail, although not extensively, McKiernan said.
It’s unclear how many abusers remain missing from the list, though, he added.
“It’s unfortunate that when we get disclosures like this one, you just don’t know how good a disclosure it is,” McKiernan said. “It’s just a really understandable question because the system has been so closed for so long.”
And survivors say the expanded list does not excuse the diocese for failing to act sooner.
“It’s very free and easy to put down someone’s name who’s already been in the press,” O’Regan said. “That’s not going to harm them [because] it’s already out there. But, to come out with an honest list, open up those secret files and put the information out there, that’s ultimately what needs to be done.”
Jeffrey Trant, director of the diocese’s Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, said at the news conference that the list, which he called “truly a living document,” will be updated upon any new determinations of credibility.
“If any survivor believes that an individual is missing from the list, we are fully committed to providing every person with the opportunity to participate in the review process,” Trant said. “This begins with reporting an allegation to the district attorney for the jurisdiction where the abuse is reported to have occurred, followed by the diocesan review after law enforcement has completed their review.”
BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, maintains a database of publicly accused priests. It had listed 48 individuals in the Diocese of Springfield who had faced public accusations of abuse as of Wednesday. Those names are gathered from court records, news articles and church documents, although the organization notes that those listed are not necessarily guilty of a crime or liable for civil claims.
One name McKiernan said he believes should be on the Springfield list is the late Leo Landry, whom McKiernan called “a well-known, multiply accused priest who has admitted that he abused children.”
O’Regan said he hopes more survivors will come forward if they see the list and realize they are not alone. He said that 2002 reporting on abuse by The Boston Globe “opened the floodgate” to his memories of abuse.
“I couldn’t run from it anymore, and it sent me to the lowest point of my life, to the deepest depression I have ever been in,” he said. “But, through that, I was able to process that and begin my healing and get to he place where I am today, and it’s a good place. You’re never too old to begin healing form the wounds of abuse.”
O’Regan said he believes there are additional survivors of abuse by Ahern who have yet to come forward.
“These abusers, they don’t abuse just one or two kids,” O’Regan said. “They abuse children until they’re either caught and put in jail or they die.”
Finding a therapist and a support group are among the most helpful actions survivors can take to begin healing, Carpino and O’Regan said. O’Regan works with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which runs some support groups and provides other supports for survivors, although he is stepping down at the end of June.
At the Wednesday news conference, Doug Cole, a survivor, said that while “there was many errors and it felt like I was being revictimized once again ... many changes have taken place” since he came forth to the diocese with a report of abuse.
O’Regan expressed cautious optimism that the expanded list marks a long-term shift toward transparency in the diocese’s handling of abuse.
“It’s been my experience over the years that they [religious leaders] just do what’s necessary for the moment and they slide into their old habits, such as reinstating priests who have been credibly accused,” O’Regan said. “I think it is important that they are honest and straightforward, and I applaud the [diocese for] expanding the list. It’s my prayer that they are sincere about this.”