Our Opinion: Weldon verdict must produce real change
The finding of a retired judge that the claims of a former altar boy that the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon sexually molested him were "unequivocally credible" is painful for many Catholics in the Springfield diocese, including the Berkshires. Bishop Weldon was a revered figure for 27 years.
But the finding, however painful, is part of the process that the diocese, and dioceses across the globe, must go through to address decades of abuse of minors by clergymen and cover-ups of that abuse by the church hierarchy.
Judge Peter A. Velis was hired by the diocese almost a year ago to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations brought forward by an unidentified Chicopee man after an in-house probe unraveled amid dissent over the conclusions of that investigation. Coverage in The Eagle about the man's frustration led to the decision to conduct an independent investigation, according to the Velis report. ("Judge finds allegation against former Bishop Weldon 'unequivocally credible..'" Larry Parnass and Caroline White, Eagle, June 25.)
The abuse of the Chicopee man began in the 1960s when he was nine years old and was violent in nature. Judge Velis, who was assisted by a chief investigator, Dennis O'Connor, said he took into consideration that Bishop Weldon, who died in 1982, was not able to defend himself. But what the judge described as the bishop's "evil deeds" were clear, declaring at a public appearance Wednesday alongside Bishop Mitchell Rozanski that he had "reached an informed and indisputable conclusion." The nearly 400-page report is now available on the diocese's website.
The bishop apologized to the victim, who met with stonewalling and skepticism from the diocese hierarchy since making his allegations to them in 2014. The Rev. Rozanski, who will be leaving to become Archbishop of St. Louis, acknowledged "chronic mishandling" of the case over those six years that led to the diocese "failing this courageous man." Judge Velis said that the investigations by the diocese failed largely because the intent was to protect the memory of the popular Bishop Weldon.
The Velis report shatters the credibility of the diocese's internal review board process, as many, although not all, of those serving on review committees are biased in favor of the accused. Former Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford will head a task force that will make recommendations about how the diocese should handle future allegations. The diocese's agreement with district attorneys within the diocese to report allegations against clergy should assure that they are brought to light before they are buried by diocesan allies of the accused.
Bishop Weldon, whose name will be struck from a rehabilitation hospital in Springfield, has been disgraced, just as his accuser has been vindicated. Going forward, the diocese must, along with notifying the authorities, institute measures to assure that if such crimes occur again the will be addressed quickly, rather than institute a cover-up that could last for years. That is a task that the Catholic Church must undertake with all humility and sincerity if it is to compensate for decades of evil deeds and regain lost credibility with Catholics all over the world.
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