Disclosures bring clergy abuse issue to top of bishop's agenda

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PITTSFIELD — Mounting revelations that Catholic leaders concealed or engaged in clergy sexual abuse around the world is bringing the issue back to the forefront in Berkshire County.

The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, leader of the region's Catholics, is inviting parishioners to speak out about abuse at sessions across the diocese, including one Feb. 10 in Pittsfield.

This past week, Rozanski joined other U.S. bishops in a Chicago suburb for prayer and reflection about the clergy abuse crisis, at the urging of Pope Francis.

On Feb. 6, Rozanski will hold the first of four events billed as "listening and dialogue sessions."

The topic: the sex abuse crisis in the church, which gathered steam in 2018 with the fall of several cardinals, including Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, and actions by attorneys general in at least two states.

"These sessions will allow the faithful to make their concerns known, offer observations and ask questions of the Bishop and diocesan officials who will join him," the Springfield Diocese said in a post on its news website.

Mark Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, said allegations that led to McCarrick's removal and the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania about widespread clergy abuse have resulted in new attention to what he termed "the church's past failures."

"And even though neither directly impact our diocesan community, it has been the cause for renewed concern within our faith community," Dupont said in an email, in response to questions from The Eagle.

The series of meetings was described at the end of Sunday's broadcast of "Chalice of Salvation," its television program.

Rozanski was traveling and not available for a telephone interview, Dupont said. The bishop is expected to issue a letter in the coming week explaining why he chose to devote the February and March meetings to clergy abuse.

The bishop has spoken out frequently about clergy abuse since he took up his assignment in Springfield in 2014, accepting a post held from 1995 to 2004 by Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, who was accused of sexual abuse and eventually defrocked. Estimates hold that the diocese has paid more than $12 million to sex abuse victims since 2004.

Last August, Rozanski wrote a lengthy letter to parishioners about clergy abuse, referring to "recent news reports."

In July, McCarrick became the first U.S. cardinal to step down because of abuse allegations, after an investigation found "credible evidence" that he had sexually abused an altar boy 47 years earlier while serving as a priest in New York. The former archbishop of Washington had also been accused of abusing teenagers and seminarians over several decades.

Pope Francis suspended McCarrick in July amid revelations that church officials had known for decades of allegations against him.

"Like all of you, I am outraged and deeply saddened by recent news reports outlining past failures by the church and its leadership to protect against the abuse of children and young adults," Rozanski wrote in his Aug. 17 letter. "While the recounting of these tragic actions can be disheartening and painful, it is important that we listen carefully and realize the ongoing consequences resulting from these past failures."

"We cannot move on," he wrote, "without first recognizing the pain and suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, caused not just by their abusers but by past church leadership which failed to recognize and take actions to protect our young people."

Apart from events scheduled by the diocese, individual Catholic parishes in Western Massachusetts gathered last fall to discuss the crisis, Dupont said, with the bishop's encouragement.

"In the end, [the] Bishop wanted to make an opportunity available throughout the diocese to hear concerns and answer questions," Dupont said.

Aside from the planned gatherings, the diocese invites parishioners who were victims of abuse to come forward. Information on its website, diospringfield.org, explains how to recognize and report abuse.

People can contact Patricia Finn McManamy, the licensed clinical social worker who directs the diocese's Office of Child and Youth Protection, at 413-452-0624 or 800-842-9055. She can be reached by email at p.mcmanamy@diospringfield.org.

In his August letter, Rozanski said he has faced "the somber task" of speaking with abuse victims and their relatives.

"While I cannot undo the great harm done to them, I can promise victims, their loved ones and the entire community that I remain firmly committed to rooting out this evil in our midst," he wrote last summer. He pledged at the time to act on that commitment.

"The failure by any member of the clergy, religious or laity to strictly implement, as well as adhere to, our policies and guidelines will result in removal from ministry," he wrote. "I also recognize that for this to be truly effective, it must be a commitment undertaken at every level of our church's leadership."

In addition to McCarrick's removal, the past year saw Pope Francis apologize for what he accepted to have been decades of unchecked abuse by priests in Chile. Last April, Cardinal George Pell of Australia was ordered to stand trial for sexual abuse.

And here in the U.S., a grand jury in Pennsylvania documented at least 1,000 incidents of sexual abuse of children in that state that had been concealed by church authorities. The report identified 300 "predator" priests.

In Illinois, the state's attorney general in December reported accusations against 690 priests.

Pope Francis referred to documented cases in a Jan. 1 letter in which he urged U.S. bishops to use their retreat in Mundelein, Ill., to confront the crisis.

"The Church's credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them," Pope Francis wrote, in an English translation made available by the Vatican.

"These have been times of turbulence in the lives of all those victims who suffered in their flesh the abuse of power and conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers, male and female religious and lay faithful."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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