Editorial: A bishop's apology

Last modified: Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The personal apology that followed the settlement of a lawsuit against two former Springfield Diocese bishops sounded heartfelt. But the context in which it was offered illustrates how the interests of money and power can override what's best for individuals who have been wronged.

Bishop Emeritus Joseph F. Maguire came forward the day after the settlement was reached July 26 to say he is "truly sorry for all that Mr. (Andrew) Nicastro suffered and the hardships it has brought in his life."

Maguire accepted a measure of blame for the fact that the Williamstown man was sexually molested by a now-defrocked priest, Alfred Graves. The crux of Nicastro's suit against the bishops was that they knew Graves preyed on children but had allowed him to remain in the church's service. They knew because he had disclosed that ugly truth to them years before.

This settlement may be one of the last of the U.S. clergy abuse nightmare. It might have been a larger award, had another institution - the insurance industry - not been calling the shots.

Nicastro's 2009 suit had survived attempts by the defense to toss it out on the grounds it was filed too late. The $500,000 settlement came only after four days of trial that included emotional testimony from Nicastro. His attorney, John Stobierski of Greenfield, says his client wanted the bishops to admit their errors. He worked hard to win that, so it's worth a close look at the apology he received.

Bishop Maguire offered his apology in a prepared statement. He had time to shape and refine his message, so it seems fair to consider its wording.

# WHAT HE SAID: "I only wish that in 1976, as a new bishop, I could have foreseen the true nature of one who violated our trust with such devastating harm to his victims."

# INSIDE THOSE WORDS: The "true nature" didn't have to be foreseen, it was in the open with Graves' admission that he had molested a child in the 1970s. Also, it is unfortunate that it occurs first to Maguire to say Graves "violated our trust" (meaning that of church officials). The targets of Graves' abuse were subject to violations profoundly greater than the loss of trust.

# WHAT HE SAID: "We have learned much in the intervening years. Our Catholic Church has made great efforts in addressing these issues promptly and with determination that we should never repeat our past failures."

# INSIDE THOSE WORDS: Many of the intervening years, within the church hierarchy, were spent in denial. The history of the clergy abuse scandal is one of profound institutional denial, as high-ranking officials, for a variety of reasons, kept their heads down and sought to escape responsibility.

# WHAT HE SAID: "Since I was called to serve the people of the Diocese of Springfield, I have strived to be a faithful and caring bishop. That in this instance I was unable to protect young people from abuse is an enduring and deep regret."

# INSIDE THOSE WORDS: By framing this as a failure of "this instance," the bishop suggests but doesn't say that Nicastro's abuse was an isolated case. In fact, reports of clergy abuse were widespread.

# WHAT HE SAID: " ... I also wish to make this statement, which in some ways represents what I would have testified to in court."

# INSIDE THOSE WORDS: It is hard to imagine the insurance company's lawyer allowing the bishop to issue any apology for what the plaintiff suffered.

Now consider what former Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, the codefendant, had to say publicly after the Nicastro case was settled: Nothing. Though the diocese provided a statement from Maguire, a spokesman confirmed that it was not asked by Dupre to share his thoughts.

Why did Bishop Dupre not express his regret for what happened to Nicastro and others who were molested by priests overseen by the Springfield Diocese?

It might be because a grand jury indicted Dupre in 2004 on two counts of child rape, a few months after he stepped down as bishop. Dupre quit one day after The Republican newspaper confronted him with allegations that he had abused children decades before while a parish priest. The indictments said Dupre started raping one of the boys in 1976 and another in 1979. The district attorney later said he could not pursue the charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

After Nicastro's testimony, it was quite possible the jury would have awarded him far more than half a million dollars. Stobierski says he and his client were told that if the jury punished the defendants with a multi-million-dollar judgement, the insurer would have appealed, dragging the case out for perhaps another half decade.

The bishops knew the truth of what had happened to Nicastro before he took the witness stand. But he had to relive the abuse and suffer it in public before the bishops were willing or able to accept responsibility for what happened to one youthful believer 30 years ago.

The price was right. The cost of their apology was acceptable on a Friday when it hadn't been just the day before. In the end, Andrew Nicastro won something that for years and years seemed impossible - a bishop's admission that what befell him was wrong.

Only the victims can judge the worth of the apologies. But from the outside, they seem little and late.


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