Shortly before receiving the report of Hon. Peter A. Velis (Ret.) concerning allegations against the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, then Bishop of Springfield (now archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis), announced the formation of the Independent Task Force on the Response to Sexual Abuse within the Diocese of Springfield.
I was greatly honored to be named the chairman of that task force. I accepted the appointment because, during my 30 years as an associate justice of the Superior Court, I presided over many cases in which child sexual assault was alleged and I saw first-hand the anguish and trauma that such reprehensible misconduct can inflict upon victims.
I was eager to make a contribution to an effort to rid the Diocese of Springfield of sexual abuse, or at least to improve the process pursuant to which accusations of abuse are handled by the diocese.
The members of the task force and I are now well into our work. We have vowed to develop a strategic plan, based upon empirical evidence, to address the issues relevant to our endeavor, and we are currently in the evidence-gathering phase. We are acutely aware of the fact that, over the years, well-meaning people from various backgrounds have made suggestions and recommendations as to how these claims should be addressed and how the process could be improved, and that all too often those suggestions and recommendations were discounted or simply ignored.
We want to change that by providing a real opportunity for people throughout the community to express themselves, and I can assure everyone that this time their suggestions will be taken seriously.
We have identified a number of stakeholders who must be consulted, and obviously the most important group consists of survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families.
To that end, we will invite survivors to provide feedback to us in a safe and trauma-informed way. Other critical stakeholders include the clergy, participants in parish work, diocesan staff, men and women religious, and parishioners themselves.
We want to hear directly from “people in the pews” who have no-doubt been deeply hurt by the clergy sexual abuse that has scandalized our Church and whose input we consider to be crucial.
Therefore, we will ask every congregant to read and complete a new survey that can be found at diospringfield.org and will be available from today through Oct. 19.
The survey is short and respondents can remain anonymous or provide their names as they see fit.
The results of the survey will help inform the task force as we work to recommend specific steps for improvement in the following areas: (1) acknowledging the trauma of sexual abuse on members of our community and ensuring the allocation of resources needed to promote healing of survivors; (2) responding to all allegations of sexual abuse in our church community in a timely, compassionate and fair way; (3) ensuring the diocese has a transparent system of protocols and procedures that guarantee respect and due process for all involved; (4) ensuring that local church leadership is held responsible and accountable for failing to protect children and other vulnerable persons; (5) holding those who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse responsible and accountable; and (6) preventing sexual abuse of anyone in our faith community in the future.
The members of the task force are a truly remarkable group. We are diverse in life experience, gender, race, ethnicity, faith and opinion, and we believe that our diversity is our strength. However, we are all unified and deeply committed to the goal of eradicating the scourge of sexual abuse from our church, or at the very least ameliorating the effects of it.
We cannot do it without help from concerned individuals who share our goal. For that reason, I respectfully urge all parishioners in the diocese to complete the survey so that our final recommendations reflect input from the people who matter most.
The days of ignoring input from the faithful are over here in the Diocese of Springfield, and I simply ask you to help us do our job. Thank you for your invaluable assistance.