Our Opinion: Independent look at Weldon accusations

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It is easy to understand the fear of the Chicopee man who claims that former Bishop Christopher J. Weldon sexually abused him when he was an altar boy in the 1960s that the review of his claims by a retired judge will drag out the process and not result in a satisfactory conclusion. The man, whose name is being withheld by The Eagle, has been through a lot.

However, taking the process outside of the Springfield Diocese is the only way to assure an investigation that is truly independent. There is precedent for this approach elsewhere within the larger Catholic community and in retired Superior Court Judge Peter Velis, the diocese has commissioned a former lawyer and judge with considerable legal experience.

According to a statement by the diocese (Eagle, July 23), Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski decided that an independent investigation was warranted because of "the recent public disagreement between this victim and the Diocesan Review Board about the description of the allegations and findings of the board." It is actually more complicated than that as there was apparent disagreement within the review board itself. After The Eagle's Larry Parnass reported that the board had sent a letter to the bishop reporting its conclusion that the man's claims against Bishop Weldon were "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 before the review board, so the board could not have found that he engaged in improper conduct. Three people in attendance replied that they heard the specific allegation being made.

With the review board's credibility having been shattered, The Eagle urged in two editorials that an independent investigator be appointed. Given his independence, we urge Judge Velis to investigate not only the man's accusations concerning Bishop Weldon but the diocese's response to those claims, including how the review board apparently became divided against itself. The bishop said the report will be released publicly which we assume will mean without redactions or edits.

The board review fiasco was the culmination of a frustrating process for Bishop Weldon's accuser, who told The Eagle it took him months to get a meeting with Bishop Rozanski. Judge Velis was chosen from a list of independent parties compiled by the church's Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, which could be seen by the accuser and victim advocate groups as evidence that the investigation will not be truly objective and free from influence by the diocese. Bishop Rozanski, however, has made sincere efforts to exceed the admittedly low bar established by his predecessor in dealing with claims of sexual abuse on the part of the clergy and resultant cover-ups. The problem is real and it is decades old. The Catholic Church, from the Springfield Diocese to the Vatican, will never move beyond the abuse and cover-up scandals until they come to grips with the past and take measures to assure that the past will not be repeated.

Unlike an in-house investigation marred by the self-interest of the investigative body, no one can predict where an independent investigation will lead. But we are hopeful it will give Bishop Weldon's accuser the closure he seeks and will play a part in the process of dealing with the past that is critical to the future of the Springfield Diocese.

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