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Editorial: Springfield diocese must do better in response to sexual misconduct

  • Richard Koske, 62, of South Hadley, speaks about abuse by Catholic priests during an interview March 7, at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield reached a settlement with Richard Koske in 2013 after he described sexual abuse by a former Northampton priest years earlier, it could have remained just another “personnel matter” kept behind closed doors.

In fact, that’s how the diocese treated the incident until Koske, 62, of South Hadley, went public this month, detailing his story of sexual abuse at the hands of retired priest Eugene Honan in the rectory of St. Mary’s Church in Northampton during the mid-1990s.

While the $20,000 settlement may have given Koske a sign that the diocese acknowledged wrongdoing, he was disturbed to learn over the course of several agonizing years how the church dealt with Honan. We also find it troubling.

A devout Catholic who had known Honan since he was a teenager, Koske first told the diocese in 2006 about the sexual abuse involving Honan. Five years later, Koske went to the diocese again after attending services at St. Patrick’s Church in South Hadley and seeing Honan at the altar.

In 2011, a Diocesan Review Board found Koske’s report of abuse credible and the matter was referred to a district attorney’s office. At the time, Honan, who retired in 2010, was already out of regular, full-time ministry. Koske said he was told of a confession by Honan in 2011 and understood that the priest was going to be moved out of state for a month while the diocese decided what to do.

According to the diocese, then-Bishop Timothy McDonnell withdrew Honan’s “priestly faculties to minister outside the diocese and allowed only supervised ministry when he was in the diocese.” In addition, Honan also was ordered to leave the rectory where he had taken up residence after his retirement.

However, Honan was honored with the Monsignor Timothy J. Leary Award by officials at Holyoke Catholic High School in 2014, which the diocese described in a Gazette story last week as an “unfortunate circumstance.” Diocesan spokesman Marc Dupont said the list of some two dozen honorees was never sent to the bishop for review.

Meantime, Koske remained deeply troubled by the fact that Honan continued to exercise religious duties. Koske also alleged sexual abuse by the late Rev. Richard Meehan, which the diocese also found credible. Koske reported “sexually inappropriate behavior” against a third priest, though it remains unclear what the diocese determined in that case. Meehan, who died in June 2017, was defrocked by the Vatican in 2006 after allegations of sexual misconduct.

Koske persisted in bringing the Honan case to the diocese’s attention with the help of his daughter, Rebecca Koske of South Hadley, and Olan Horne, an advocate for people with claims of sexual abuse against the Catholic Church. In late 2017, Koske met with church officials, including Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, and told them they had not appropriately addressed his allegations against Honan. According to the diocese, Rozanski summoned Honan and told him he was reconsidering the matter. The bishop informed Honan he would “no longer have any priestly faculties in the diocese or elsewhere.”

Why did it take so many years for the diocese to take firm action in this case? Whatever the answer, it clearly sends the message that the diocese has more work to do in addressing claims of sexual misconduct in the church.

In a statement last week, the diocese acknowledged that it has made efforts to prevent a repeat of past failures and is “continually improving our training and policies.” The diocese also said it is in the process of hiring what it described as a clergy monitor for those under any disciplinary action. “When we do fall short, we try to learn from our mistakes,” Dupont told the Gazette.

Koske said he hopes his story will help others avoid the trauma he endured. “I went through hell, and I’m still going through hell,” he said in an interview with the Gazette.

The courage Koske showed in publicly detailing such a painful chapter in his life exposed continued failures in how the diocese handles cases of reported sexual abuse. It should prompt the diocese to conduct an immediate and thorough review of its training, policies and procedures to ensure there are no repeated mistakes.