The acknowledgment by the Springfield Diocese that former Catholic Bishop Christopher J. Weldon has been credibly accused of sexually abusing an altar boy is welcome, yet overdue. As is too often the case with dioceses across the nation, Springfield had to be pushed into doing what it should have done at the first opportunity.
Last week, the diocese filed an initial report of a claim of abuse with the office Hampden County District Attorney Gulluni (Eagle, June 22). This came the same day that the Most Rev. Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski met with a Chicopee man who says Bishop Weldon was one of several members of the clergy in the Springfield Diocese who abused him in the 1960s when he was 9 or 10. The Springfield Diocese includes Berkshire County.
The meeting and the referral came three weeks after the diocese denied it had received a credible accusation against Weldon. In response to an Eagle story by Larry Parnass reporting that a diocesan review board had notified the bishop last September that it found the alleged victim's story about his molestation by Bishop Weldon to be "compelling and credible," the chairman of the review board, John M. Hale, asserted in a statement released through the diocese that the former altar boy did not accuse Bishop Weldon of abuse to the review board, so the board could not have found that he engaged in improper conduct. This dismayed three people in attendance who recalled hearing the specific allegation made, one of whom, a practicing Catholic and clinical psychologist, accused the diocese of lying as part of a cover-up.
It remains unclear how the chairman of the review board could deny the contents of a letter to the bishop that he presumably signed off on. It is clear, however, that in-house diocesan review boards, which are supposedly independent, aren't the best way to get at the truth of allegations that directly impact the diocese.
It remains to be seen what steps will be taken next by either the district attorney or the diocese. According to diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont, Bishop Rozanski will first consider the impact of new policies on how to handle abuse allegations made against bishops established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at a meeting earlier this month. In an editorial June 8 ("Diocese must resolve Weldon allegations"), The Eagle recommended that the diocese fund an independent study into the allegations. There is a precedent established by other dioceses in the nation that want to resolve open-ended controversies that cripple their credibility with members of the church.
This past winter, DA Gullini established a hot line to receive complaints of clergy abuse and two months ago he reaffirmed his desire to investigate such claims. After meeting with Bishop Rozanski, the Chicopee man, whose name is being withheld by The Eagle at his request, urged abuse survivors to come forward, declaring that "There are safe allies who want to help you. You do not have to carry the secrets of your abusers anymore."
There are indeed reasons for cautious optimism about the exposure of and end to clergy abuse. But the Catholic Church and its diocesan leaders will never truly be able to move forward until they fully confront and deal with the past.