Springfield diocese, DAs reach accord on reporting sexual misconduct

  • Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2020 3:44:52 PM

SPRINGFIELD — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and three district attorneys’ offices in western Massachusetts have entered into a formal agreement that sets out standard procedures for reporting allegations of sexual misconduct within the local church.

The new “memorandum of understanding” between the diocese and the offices of Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni and Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington was announced in a statement released Wednesday by the diocese.

The agreement, which expires at the end of June 2024, outlines policies through which the diocese will report to the authorities any allegations of sexual misconduct it becomes aware of, regardless of when the abuse is reported to have taken place. The diocese also agreed to waive its own investigations or reviews of allegations for up to 90 days or until the district attorneys say otherwise to avoid unintentional interference if a criminal investigation is opened. The agreement also establishes practices for documenting receipt of allegations that are forwarded to district attorneys as well as some follow-up communications.

“I am most grateful to all who worked so diligently in preparing this agreement, one which demonstrates our commitment to work with law enforcement in identifying all allegations of sexual misconduct that come to our attention,” Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said in the statement.

Allegations of sexual misconduct were made against the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon from a Chicopee man who said Weldon was one of several clergy members who sexually abused him during the 1960s while he was an altar boy. The diocese filed an initial report of a claim of abuse with the Hampden district attorney’s office in June 2019, though the man allegedly made these accusations at a June 2018 meeting.

Since then, the diocese launched a Safe Environment & Victim Assistance Office and hired retired Judge Peter A. Velis to independently investigate claims against Weldon, who died in 1982.

Gulluni, whose office represented each district attorney’s office while the agreement was being crafted over the last year, said his office had concerns about discrepancies and inconsistencies between information that they received from the diocese and information from other sources in past abuse allegations.

“It addresses the main concerns about timely and specific reporting and making sure that those allegations the diocese hears about goes to the DAs office and we have an unfettered opportunity to investigate a case before and without the diocese doing the same thing at the same time,” Gulluni said about the agreement.

Sullivan and Gulluni said that though many of the sexual abuse allegations are older and thus unable to be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations, the reporting allows DAs to connect victims with proper services if they want them. Even if the allegation is too old for prosecution, the diocese could handle the allegation on a civil basis, Gulluni said.

“It was really important to our office that the diocese be accountable, but also transparent,” Sullivan said. “That any reporting come directly to us and not be filtered by the diocese and held for their own investigation, but that the investigation would start with the police and district attorney’s office.”

The agreement mandates that the diocese notify district attorneys of reports of sexual abuse, attempted sexual abuse and/or sexual misconduct involving a vulnerable person of which the diocese becomes aware of, whether through a complaint, report, statement, allegation, observation or other means.

The diocese must provide information about victims, witnesses, alleged abusers and persons who report misconduct. It also must provide information about when an allegation was first reported to the diocese and to whom, summaries of facts regarding the allegations, names and contact information of the victim’s attorney, among other requirements.

The agreement also says the diocese has taken steps to educate its personnel about state mandatory reporting requirements and will continue its past practice of neither imposing nor seeking to impose confidentiality agreements on victims.

Gulluni said the agreement is geared toward the handling of any new allegation the diocese becomes aware of.

“I think we’ve done our best to clear up with the diocese any … past cases,” Gulluni said. “So this is forward-facing.”

Gulluni said victims of abuse who haven’t come forward yet can now choose to do so through the diocese, but said his office’s dedicated clergy abuse hotline at 413-800-2958 is still staffed for those victims to come to law enforcement directly, regardless of the age of the allegation.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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