New chair of diocesan board heard from Bishop Weldon victim. He says he doesn't remember it.

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SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Diocese said Friday that a survivor of clergy abuse will take the helm of an internal board. That survivor, a Dalton resident, was present when his board heard allegations in 2018 against Christopher J. Weldon, one of the diocese's most prominent bishops.

But, James A. Stankiewicz says he does not remember that other survivor's emotional presentation to the board he now will lead — and could not say why.

In two interviews Friday with The Eagle, Stankiewicz was not able to explain why he does not recall a Chicopee man's presentation to the board about sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Weldon and other priests in the early 1960s.

The diocese confirmed Friday that Stankiewicz attended the survivor's meeting with the board.

"I don't know what to say," Stankiewicz said.

The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski appointed Stankiewicz to lead the board this week, after its former chair, John M. Hale, stepped down after holding the post since 2018 and serving on the panel for more than a decade.

The review board exists to advise the bishop on whether an allegation involving diocesan personnel is credible.

Stankiewicz, a former headmaster of St. Agnes Academy in Dalton, has been a member of the review board since 2005. He also serves on the 10-member Independent Task Force appointed late last year and announced this spring. The group is looking into how the diocese has responded to allegations of sexual abuse and is likely to recommend reforms.

When naming him to the task force, the diocese said Stankiewicz "is committed to supporting survivors and working to protect children and vulnerable adults."

Stankiewicz testified before the board in 1993 about clergy abuse that he said he survived in the Springfield Diocese as a child.

In an interview Friday, he described the experience of testifying as "very good."

Board's letter

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A few months after the Chicopee survivor spoke to the review board about his abuse by Weldon and two priests, the board sent him a letter confirming that it had found his story to be "compelling and credible" and that his testimony would be passed along to Rozanski. That letter was sent in September 2018. Nearly another year passed before the diocese contracted with retired Judge Peter A. Velis to investigate the man's claims.

According to a woman who witnessed the Chicopee man's appearance before the review board, Stankiewicz was present.

When asked Friday to share his thoughts on the other survivor's testimony, Stankiewicz said he did not remember it.

In a report released last month, Velis determined that the man's allegations against Weldon were "unequivocally credible." Velis described the diocese's treatment of the survivor's allegations as a "chronic mishandling."

The report pointed to malfeasance within the review board, stating in its executive summary that "the process included an inexplicable modification and manipulation of the reports received by and acted on by the Diocesan Review Board."

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Hale, the board's former chairman, later wrote to the survivor, in a letter dated Sept. 18, 2018, to say the panel's members found his story "compelling [and] we want to express our sincere sorrow for the pain and suffering you have endured."

"As we explained to you," the letter said, "the Board has no other authority except to notify the Bishop that we find your allegations credible."

After The Eagle reported on Hale's letter in 2019, the diocese denied that the survivor identified Weldon as an abuser.

In a May 31, 2019, statement through the diocese, Hale said in response to the newspaper's coverage: "Let me be clear, the Review Board has never found that the late Bishop Christopher Weldon, deceased since 1982, engaged in improper contact with anyone."

The circumstances suggest that Stankiewicz, after being present at the Chicopee survivor's meeting with the review board, remained silent as the diocese backtracked from Hale's September 2018 letter and for the 20 months that passed until the release of the Velis report.

In comments provided through the diocese, Stankiewicz called the review board's work important.

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"It is especially important to hear from and respond to survivors of abuse in a timely manner," he said in the statement.

`Healed and helped'

The diocese said Friday that Stankiewicz will hold his position as interim chair until the task force within the diocese, on which he sits, reviews the Velis report and develops "a strategic plan with specific steps to improvement."

Jeffrey J. Trant, who heads the diocesan Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, called Stankiewicz "an advocate and leader who is committed to improving the diocese's response for all survivors of clergy sexual abuse."

The task force is led by former Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford.

Stankiewicz said he doesn't anticipate making any "sweeping changes" before the task force completes its evaluation.

He said that, given his identity as a survivor of clergy abuse, his priority in his new position is to encourage other survivors to come forward.

"We want them to be heard," he said. "We want them to be healed and helped."

Survivors of clergy abuse can come forward by contacting the Springfield Diocese Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance by calling 413-452-0624 or by emailing reportabuse@springfielddio.org. The office also has a confidential phone line at 800-842-9055.

Caroline White can be reached at cwhite@berkshireeagle.com or at 563-513-1065.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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