Last fall, in my capacity as chair of the Independent Task Force on the Response to Sexual Abuse within the Diocese of Springfield, I wrote an op-ed providing an overview of the work the task force was undertaking with emphasis on the stakeholder input that we would be seeking.
I write now to affirm that the task force has been actively engaged and has made excellent progress in our data collection endeavor and in other phases of our work.
First, as we announced at a press conference on Jan. 8, we engaged the services of Stop It Now!, an independent professional organization in Northampton, to conduct focus groups with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Obviously, there is no more important group from whom we need input than the men and women who have been sexually victimized by priests and other diocesan employees. We expect to receive the report from Stop It Now! on or about March 31, and it will certainly be an important element of our final report.
Second, we have collected comments and suggestions from approximately 500 parishioners through a comprehensive survey of members of the Diocese of Springfield. We view input from the “people in the pews” to be essential to our task of making meaningful recommendations to the bishop relative to the way in which the diocese should respond to allegations of sexual abuse. A member of the Task Force has prepared an executive summary of the responses, and after lengthy discussions that document has been approved by the full task force. We expect that the document will be attached to our final report.
Third, Jeffrey Trant, the director of the Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, and I have met personally with the three district attorneys of Western Massachusetts and some of their staff members and investigators. The purpose of those meetings was to verify that the diocese has been complying with its obligations under the Memorandum of Understanding executed between the diocese and each District Attorney’s office in 2020. We were pleased to hear that there are no complaints about the performance of those obligations by the diocese.
Fourth, we engaged the services of Arpeggias LLC, an Oklahoma limited liability company with years of experience in these matters, to conduct a telephone survey of all the priests in the Springfield Diocese. We recognize that the vast majority of priests in the diocese are law-abiding, God-fearing men who have been unfairly tarred with guilt by association and who, in some cases, are feeling alone and disrespected as a result. We believe that their input is absolutely crucial and that their voices must be heard if our report is to have any credibility with members of the clergy. Of the priests who could be reached or who agreed to be contacted, approximately 77 percent participated in substantive interviews. The task force will soon begin analyzing those responses, and an executive summary of the exercise will be prepared. That document will be released to the public at some point.
Finally, we have most recently turned our attention to the matter of prevention, and we have heard from some highly qualified experts on that subject. It is true that reports of sexual abuse that allegedly took place after 1992 are few in number, which is no doubt attributable to the good work of those individuals who sought to address the problem during that era and thereafter. Nevertheless, we hope to learn from the mistakes of the past, and to make recommendations to the bishop devised not only to improve the response of the diocese to complaints of sexual abuse, but also to prevent, to the extent humanly possible, these despicable acts from occurring in the future.
I want people to understand that, although we have made no recent public announcements, the members of the task force have been meeting regularly and a great deal has been accomplished. We continue to hear the voices of all stakeholders and consider them as we are about to enter the final phase of our work. We hope to have our final report ready for release to the public by mid- to late spring.
I wish to acknowledge the valuable assistance of those who have participated in our work to date, and to thank them for helping us to achieve our ultimate goal of designing a strategic plan aimed at delivering on the Most Rev. William Byrne’s commitment to transparency, accountability and prevention. In doing so, we seek to acknowledge the horrific pain of survivors of sexual abuse and fulfill Bishop Byrne’s commitment to do significantly better for all the people of the Springfield Diocese.