Jeffrey Trant: Diocese committed to real change

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SPRINGFIELD — On Wednesday, June 24, the Most Reverend Mitchell T. Rozanski, Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Springfield, announced that he accepted the finding of credibility by retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis' independent investigation concerning allegations of sexual abuse against the late Christopher J. Weldon, former bishop of Springfield.

On behalf of the Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance for the Diocese of Springfield, I would like to publicly recognize the strength and resilience of the survivor who continued to pursue justice and truth since first reporting his abuse to diocesan officials in 2014.

As Archbishop-designate Rozanski noted Wednesday, "In almost every instance we failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well as a deep desire for a just response to the terrible abuse he endured."

As a result of the investigation, Archbishop-designate Rozanski took the following steps: (1) directed that Trinity Health remove the former bishop's name from its rehab facilities; (2) communicated to the diocesan cemeteries office to make the necessary plans to remove the former bishop's remains to a less prominent location marked with a simple gravestone; (3) instructed all Catholic facilities to immediately remove honorable mentions, references, memorials and pictures of the former bishop; and (4) ordered that his name be placed on our diocesan website listing all those with credible allegations of sexual abuse of a child or vulnerable adult. Truly, it was through the continued advocacy by survivors of clergy sexual abuse and ongoing support from the survivor community that this unfortunate matter finally reached a conclusion.

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The mission of the Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance is to support healing and recovery while also holding those who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, as well as those who have failed to protect children and vulnerable persons, responsible and accountable. This cannot be achieved without the voice and input from those who've been most deeply affected.

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I acknowledge that many survivors are likely mistrustful of the diocese, perhaps even more so now more than ever due to what we have learned from the report issued by Judge Velis. Further, I also recognize that survivors, family members, and other members of the diocesan community have good reason to be suspicious of "rhetoric about change" as we have failed to live up to these promises time and time again.

Please know how grateful the diocese is to the survivor community for your continued advocacy and pursuit of meaningful change in order to support healing and recovery. I applaud and thank you for all you have done and all you will continue to do.

Over the past year, we've made a commitment to listening more closely to the needs and demands you've identified and to implementing practices to ensure that healing and safety is always as much our priority as it has been yours.

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As a beginning, the Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance has worked in collaboration with law enforcement officials and other stakeholders to address critical issues that required immediate change. First, a new panel of investigators were hired to investigate allegations of sexual abuse using trauma-informed and investigative best practices. Second, a "Memorandum of Understanding" on reporting allegations of sexual abuse by diocesan representatives was entered into with the district attorneys' offices of the Berkshire, Hampden, and Northwestern districts. Lastly, an independent task force on the response to sexual abuse within the Diocese of Springfield was appointed by Bishop Rozanski to develop a strategic plan with specific steps for improvement.

Although the diocese has made significant changes to its reporting and investigatory practices, it is not nearly enough. As the diocese embarks on developing a blue print for making real and substantial changes, I invite all survivors to consider joining in this important effort. I can be reached via e-mail at j.trant@diospringfield.org or by phone at 413-452-0624.

Jeffrey J. Trant is director, Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance.


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