The former altar boy who accused a legendary bishop of rape — an account deemed “unequivocally credible” by a retired judge last summer — wants to be compensated for his suffering, citing inaction and connivance by church officials that, he says, exacerbated his pain.
In a lawsuit filed in Hampden Superior Court, the Chicopee man alleges that current and former officials within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, including former Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, engaged in a cover-up to protect the reputation of the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon.
The suit alleges that people who work or worked for the diocese, including its longtime attorney, John. J. Egan, played various roles in suppressing the unnamed man’s initial reports of abuse by Weldon and two other members of the clergy in the 1960s, starting when the child was 9.
The plaintiff is identified in the civil action only as John Doe. The suit, which appeared on the court’s docket Monday, seeks a jury trial and what it terms an award that will “adequately compensate him for his damages, plus interest, costs and attorney’s fees …”
The suit comes eight months after an explosive report revealed inaction and manipulation of the case by the Springfield Diocese, leading one of the newly named defendants, Rozanski, to say at the time that the diocese had “failed this courageous man.”
In addition to Egan and Rozan- ski, who now is the archbishop of St. Louis, the complaint names as defendants Patricia McManamy, Monsignor Christopher Connelly, Jeffrey Trant, John Hale, Kevin Murphy and Mark Dupont. The action also names as a defendant the legal entity known as the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield, a Corporation Sole.
Carolee McGrath, the diocese’s media relations manager, said the church does not comment on pending civil litigation.
The action, filed by attorneys Nancy Frankel Pelletier and David S. Lawless of Robinson Donovan PC, claims a campaign of “deliberate indifference” to the abuse survivor’s needs that resulted in neglect and amounted at times to a civil conspiracy.
It alleges, for instance, that McManamy and Connelly failed in their roles as mandated reporters by not informing the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office after the plaintiff first brought his account of serial rape and abuse to the diocese in November 2014.
McManamy, who worked as director of counseling, prevention and victim services, also neglected to report the account of abuse to authorities in 2016, after another session with the plaintiff, the suit states. It further accuses her of later claiming that she was unsure whether the allegation had named Weldon, despite the fact that a draft and final intake report listed Weldon as the “accused abuser.”
The other priests who the complaint says engaged in the assaults were the Revs. Clarence Forand and Edward Authier. Forand is listed by the diocese as having been credibly accused of sexual assault; Authier is not listed. Weldon died in 1982, after serving the diocese, including Berkshire County, from 1950 to 1977.
Story of abuse
The sexual abuse the Chicopee man reported to the diocese is graphic and heart-rending. The complaint distills that history into a paragraph or so.
“Plaintiff was subjected to heinous acts of abuse perpetrated upon him, including severe anal penetration by multiple perpetrators including Weldon, Forand, and Authier. Plaintiff was taken to a rectory bedroom at St. Anne Parish and various other locations where they and others violently raped and assaulted him.”
The assaults involving Weldon started when the plaintiff was serving the church as an altar boy and occurred at St. Anne Parish in Chicopee and other places, including Camp Holy Cross in Goshen, the suit states.
As is common in cases of sexual abuse, the trauma experienced affected the victim’s memory. In an interview with The Eagle in 2019, he said he remembered what happened to him only in March 2013, as he watched TV coverage of the installation of Pope Francis.
The lawsuit claims that the diocese failed in its duty to care for a person like this child. The filing recounts the plaintiff’s memory of one particularly harrowing day, when he was coerced into entering a building on the St. Anne’s Parish grounds.
“Plaintiff was terrified and, on one occasion, desperately resisted, grabbing onto door frames to try to prevent Weldon from taking him into a room at the end of the hall,” the suit says. “Weldon forcibly dragged Plaintiff down the hallway to a room where at least one other altar boy and two priests were present. Once inside the room, Weldon commanded one of the altar boys or priests that were present to get Plaintiff onto the bed. The altar boys and priests grabbed Plaintiff, flipped him onto his stomach, and pinned him to the bed where he was brutally raped by Weldon and others.”
In a 2019 interview with The Eagle, the plaintiff said that Weldon was the most cruel of all the men who abused him. When he cried, he said, the bishop would strike him.
Duplicity inside the diocese regarding the case continued, the suit alleges, as the man’s story moved slowly toward a formal internal review. Murphy, a former state trooper who worked for the diocese’s review board, conducted an interview with the plaintiff. The suit claims that reports of Weldon’s abuse of the child were removed from two of three reports created about the case.
Documents were “intentionally manipulated … in order to discredit the plaintiff and to suppress plaintiff’s allegations regarding Weldon,” the complaint says.
On June 13, 2018, nearly four years after contacting the diocese, the plaintiff told his story to the review board, then led by Hale. “I was raped,” he told its members. The review board wrote to the man on Sept. 18, 2018, to say it found his story “compelling and credible.”
But, within months, the diocese was telling a different story publicly, when asked about the case by The Eagle.
The complaint claims that Hale, Dupont and Egan worked together to conceal the plaintiff’s allegations against Weldon when responding to questions from The Eagle in 2019. That spring, the newspaper reported on the Chicopee man’s struggle to get the diocese to admit that its own internal review board had upheld his account of clergy abuse.
What happened behind the scenes at the diocese was documented in the report filed last June by Judge Peter A. Velis. In the wake of The Eagle’s coverage of the case, the diocese hired Velis to examine the allegations against Weldon. Velis used access to internal diocesan emails to reveal efforts to refute the allegations.
When asked by Dupont for guidance on how to respond to The Eagle’s questions about the case, Egan, the church’s lawyer, wrote: “I suggest: ‘The Review Board has never found that Bishop Weldon engaged in improper contact with anyone. In the complaint in question, the allegation was that Bishop Weldon knew or should have known that other priests engaged in such conduct but that he failed to remove them from ministry.’”
Rozanski, the sitting bishop, was part of that correspondence, and appeared in one communication to support the effort to manipulate the story about Weldon: “Yes, thank you. This is a good response,” Rozanski wrote.
The complaint alleges that the statement knowingly was false and that the conduct within the diocese “demonstrated a callous disregard toward plaintiff’s suffering, further victimizing plaintiff.”
The defendants’ behavior, the suit claims, resulted in “permanent mental distress and emotional injuries” for the plaintiff,” as well as “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” among other things.
Earlier, Dupont, the diocese’s communications director, had told The Eagle in a May 30, 2019, email that the newspaper was wrong to report, as it had, that Weldon had been accused. “You should know that there is NO finding of sexual abuse of any person involving Bishop Weldon — NONE.”
The lawsuit alleges that Dupont “knew or should have known that these statements were false.”
Early claim of cover-up
That denial from the diocese led a former member of the review board, Patricia Martin, to accuse the church of engaging in a cover-up. Martin attended the June 2018 board session involving the current plaintiff and said later that the church was lying.
“We were in the room where it happened and [the man] did say that Weldon abused him,” Martin said in a June 2019 interview. “I heard [the man] say that Weldon brought him in a room and abused him. They are trying to cover [Weldon’s] reputation rather than support a victim. It’s beyond awful. It makes me so angry that they would deny it now. They’re lying.”
As revealed in the Velis report, Egan, the diocese’s attorney, also suggested that the newspaper be steered away from reporting that Weldon even had been present at the scene of any abuse, even if it was asserted by church officials that he had not participated in any molestation himself. His remark came amid a review of a draft statement to the newspaper.
Egan wrote to Dupont: “Mark, I would take out the reference to Bishop Weldon being present. It sounds like he was watching. At the end it should be that the individual said that Bishop Weldon never abused him. On the possibility of Bishop being present I would say the allegation was Bishop had actual knowledge of the abuse or he should have known because he was present at a gathering where some of the abuse took place. Can we say it was a large gathering?”
Egan also counseled Dupont to make the point that the allegations are old — in what could be seen as an attempt to discredit the man’s memory, writing: “Also, I think we should lead with an allegation of abuse in the 1960s and the victim didn’t recover his memories until around 2017 or 2018.”
In fact, the plaintiff says he first recalled the abuse in 2013.
In his report, Velis left no doubt about his determination regarding Weldon. “I find 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 the intentional infliction of emotional distress are unequivocally credible.”
“I conducted the process in the light most favorable to him,” Velis said of Weldon, speaking at a news conference last June. “However … I still reached an informed and indisputable conclusion. … The finding I made I stand behind as an indisputable truth.”
After receiving the retired judge’s report, Rozanski apologized for what he termed the “chronic mishandling” of the case, the timeline of which matched Rozanski’s term as bishop, from 2014 to 2020.
“In almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network, as well as to a deep desire for a just response to the terrible abuse which he endured,” Rozanski said of the Chicopee man.
Weldon’s name was added to the list of credibly accused clergy immediately after Velis released his findings. His name was ordered taken off a Springfield rehabilitation hospital and his remains “marked with a simple gravestone” rather than a monument in a diocesan cemetery.