Priests question fund appeal for camp cited in Bishop Weldon abuse report
GOSHEN — Like all camps that can't open this summer, the one the Springfield Diocese owns alongside a cool mountain reservoir is hurting for money.
This week, the Dalton priest who runs Camp Holy Cross passed the hat.
"If you are able to help, please send a donation," the Rev. Christopher Malatesta, the camp's executive director and leader of Dalton's St. Agnes Parish, wrote in an email sent to all priests in the Catholic diocese. "We are looking for donations in any amount."
What he got instead, from at least two priests, was censure. That's because the camp's name was linked to clergy sexual abuse in the independent report released June 24 by retired Judge Peter A. Velis.
Velis says that in the course of evaluating a Chicopee man's allegations against former Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, he and his investigator zeroed in on the possibility that assaults occurred at the Goshen camp in the early 1960s.
Velis wrote that the survivor, whose account he deemed "unequivocally credible," spoke of recalling the number 56 from the time of his abuse, at the age of 9 or 10, in 1961 and 1962. The judge said that number might be related to a building on the grounds of the camp, located on 250 acres off Route 112 beside Upper Highland Reservoir, just north of the Daughters of the American Revolution State Forest.
"The address, number `56,' has great significance when one considers the Complainant's narrative that he was drawn from a tent by Bishop Weldon near where `naked boys were swimming,' and taken to a `dark and scary building in the woods,'" the report says on Page 90. The document includes nine photos of buildings and grounds at Camp Holy Cross.
The Rev. James Scahill, a retired diocesan priest, called the timing of the Holy Cross fund appeal "most bizarre."
"Tone-deaf," said another priest, who asked not to be identified.
"I was dumbstruck about the complete arrogance and insensitivity of such a bizarre movement to raise funds," said Scahill, who retired in 2014.
"It is where abuses took place," Scahill said. "The diocese should immediately put up for sale the acreage at Camp Holy Cross, and the proceeds should be applied to settlements for said victims of abuse."
'Difficult financial situation'
Malatesta said Thursday that he regrets the timing of the appeal, coming on the heels of the Velis report, but stands by the need to support a program that, he said, benefits hundreds of campers each summer. Not being able to operate in 2020, he said, "has placed us in a difficult financial situation."
"It was not meant to be insensitive to those many people who have suffered sexual abuse by clergy," he said in a statement to The Eagle in response to questions about the campaign. "I have a responsibility to the camp and the hundreds of children and young adults who each year participate in outdoor recreation and ministry.
"An important part of that responsibility is meeting its financial obligations. But again, in no way did I mean to slight or diminish the findings of the Velis report," Malatesta wrote.
In a 2015 video produced by the diocese that can be seen on the camp's website, Malatesta says the program promotes engagement with the Catholic religion in ways that reach young people.
"These kids leave with a happy experience of church," he says on camera — a view backed up by more than a dozen interviews with campers.
Olan Horne, of Chester, a clergy abuse survivor and advocate, believes that the camp cannot shed its association with what the Velis report confirmed to be past abusive behavior by clergy. Weldon served as bishop from 1950 to 1977. He died in 1982.
"It's a monument to pain and suffering," Horne said of the camp. "What parent, after all these testimonies, would want to send their kids there?"
On Thursday, Malatesta said he opposes any call to close the camp, which he has run since 2000.
"That would be shortsighted. We should instead focus on the practices that led us to this point, solutions that will remedy the awful pain that has been felt, and justice for those many abuse victims," he said in his statement.
"Closing the camp would send the wrong message and come at a huge cost to our youth. It would, in fact, punish future generations by denying them this camp as a summer haven for fun and growth," he wrote.
Along with seeking individual donations, Malatesta's fund appeal informs priests and deacons that he has ordered a commemorative brick in the name of every parish "in anticipation of my brothers supporting our camp."
He said the bricks, part of a campaign underway for at least five years, will be installed this fall near the camp's chapel.
Regardless of what happened in the past, Malatesta said that in the two decades he has been in charge, the program has put guidelines in place that ensure campers are safe.
Other Weldon victim
Scahill confirmed this week that in summer 2005, when he was serving in St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow, a man approached him to say he was sexually assaulted by Weldon. They spoke privately after a wedding Scahill just had officiated.
The man is not the one whose story prompted the Velis investigation.
Scahill acknowledged that he did not report the man's account to the diocese or to any civil authority. Scahill said he opened his arms to embrace the man, after hearing him name Weldon.
"He fell into my arms and he wept and he wept," Scahill said.
He said the man was adamant that his account remain secret. "He said, `I could never do that. My mother adores Bishop Weldon.'"
In his report, Velis recounts his team's brief phone interview with Scahill. Velis said he sought information that might enable him to evaluate the Chicopee man's allegations, but got little from Scahill.
"Due to what was perceived as a reluctance on Scahill's part to disclose any information that would violate confidentiality," the report says.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.
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