Diocese hires retired judge to investigate abuse claims


Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2019 5:08:14 PM

SPRINGFIELD — A retired judge will immediately begin investigating allegations of misconduct, some dating to the early 1960s, made against that late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

The diocese announced Monday that it has hired Peter A. Velis after learning that newly promulgated procedures from the Vatican by Pope Francis, aimed at handling allegations of misconduct against bishops, would likely not apply to those who have already died. Velis retired as a Superior Court judge in 2012 after 14 years on the bench, overseeing trials in all four western Massachusetts counties as well as in Barnstable County.

Mark Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, said in a statement that Bishop Mitchell Rozanski consulted with church officials and was told new procedures would not encompass allegations against a late bishop, so he decided to seek the independent, third-party review.

“Given the recent public disagreement between this victim and the diocesan review board about the description of the allegations and findings of the board, Bishop Rozanski felt that, in this situation, turning this matter over to an independent and outside party was both warranted and the most prudent course of action,” Dupont said.

In June, the diocese filed an initial report of a claim of abuse by Weldon with the Hampden County district attorney’s office, coming after Rozanski heard directly from a Chicopee man who says Weldon was one of several clergy in the diocese who sexually abused him in the early 1960s, when he was 9 or 10.

Rozanksi issued a statement that he is grateful to Velis, who is currently an adjunct professor of criminal evidence at Westfield State University and provides mediation and arbitration services through his private law practice.

“We are fortunate to have a jurist of his exemplary reputation to assist in this troubling matter,” Rozanski said, adding that Velis will investigate the matter thoroughly, review how the matter has been handled by the diocese and identify opportunities for improving how the matter is handled.

Last month, the diocese announced the launch of a Safe Environment & Victim Assistance Office in the wake of the molestation accusations and allegations of an attempted cover-up.

The former altar boy, of Chicopee, served in the 1960s, and allegedly leveled the accusations at a June 2018 meeting. Weldon died in 1982.

To illustrate that Velis is independent, the diocese noted that in 2003 he ruled against the Hampden County district attorney’s office when he ordered the release of documents related to the Daniel Croteau murder investigation. Croteau was a 13-year-old altar boy found dead in the Chicopee River in 1972 whose murder has never been solved.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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