Springfield Diocese names investigators for abuse allegations

  • Brenda Burge, C. Lee Bennett and Norman F. Charest. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • VIA WIKIMEDIA—

Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2020 6:12:25 PM

SPRINGFIELD — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has appointed three people to its newly created team of investigators in its Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance.

Retired Springfield Police Capt. C. Lee Bennett, retired Springfield Police Lt. Norman F. Charest and Brenda Burge, an investigator for the state Department of Children and Families, have been named as the new investigators, according to a press release. They will serve as administrative investigators in abuse claims made to the Diocesan Review Board, the release said.

Jeffrey J. Trant, the office’s director, said in the statement released Monday that the hirings were part of a number of changesin how allegations of abuse are handled by the diocese. In 2019, the Berkshire Eagle reported that the Springfield Diocese tried to repress molestation accusations against Bishop Christopher J. Weldon by a former altar boy, who served in the 1960s. Last June, the diocese announced the reorganization of its Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, saying the office will build on abuse awareness training, among other measures, to fulfill its mission.

“Since coming on board with the diocese I have heard numerous concerns from the survivor community on how allegations have been handled by the diocese, so this is a first step in addressing their legitimate concerns,” Trant said in the press release.

In response to what other changes the diocese is looking to make in regard to the handling of abuse allegations, Springfield Diocese spokesman Mark Dupont said in an email that the diocese is anticipating getting additional recommendations from retired Judge Peter Velis, who is independently reviewing allegations of misconduct.

Trant said in the statement that the new investigators bring experience in conducting investigations as well as working with survivors of abuse.

In an interview cited in the statement with iObserve, the Springfield Diocese’s news website, Charest said, “Our job here is not to do criminal investigations.”

“We are doing it for the church so the church can take appropriate steps,” Charest said.

The investigators will gather facts and present them to the review board, Charest said, where the board will then “apply them to the Church rules to see if there are violations.”

Bennett, in the statement, noted that oftentimes in the case of abuse allegations, the statute of limitations may have expired on a crime.

“At this moment we are trying to find the best possible way to bring justice to people who maybe haven’t had it before,” Bennett said in the statement.

Dupont said the Springfield Diocese “advertised these ‘per diem’ positions and we would reserve the right to bring on additional investigators if deemed necessary by circumstances.”

Dupont reiterated that the scope of the diocese’s investigations is different than that of a criminal investigation.

“They are part of a process to listen to people’s experiences, with an overall goal to help support victims with healing and recovery,” he said.

According to the statement, Burge worked for DCF for the last 23 years as a child abuse investigator and also is a trained forensic interviewer. Bennett started at the Springfield Police Department in 1983 and worked in many units, including rape, child abuse, sexual assault and internal investigations. Charest was a Springfield police officer for 37 years and has experience investigating child abuse and sex crimes, the statement said.

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

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