Springfield diocese to join third-party system to report bishop abuse 

  • Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, center, speaks during an announcement about a “newly reorganized”  Safe Environment & Victim Assistance Office in June 2019 in Springfield.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2019 4:07:40 PM

SPRINGFIELD — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which in June received a credible claim of sexual misconduct by a late bishop, will be participating in a new third-party, independent system for reporting abuse by current church leaders.

The dioceses of the Boston Province, which include the four dioceses in Massachusetts and those in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, announced Wednesday the launch of the new online system, which comes in response to an edict from Pope Francis to have all dioceses, in every country, establish a public, accessible and reliable system for reporting crimes of clergy sexual abuse and any cover-up of abuse by May 31, 2020.

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said in a statement released by the diocese that he is grateful to Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley for leadership in implementing the interim reporting system, already being used by the Boston Archdiocese, which will allow victims to report potential misconduct by cardinals, bishops, auxiliary bishops and superiors.

“This is an important step in assuring accountability for bishops in continuing to be vigilant in our church for the safe environment of all our members, particularly our most vulnerable,” Rozanski said.

The EthicsPoint portal to make reports is online, or there is a toll-free hotline at 844-762-5208.

Terry Donilon, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said the bishops in the Boston Province met earlier this summer and decided to act now on having a reporting system, rather than wait until next May, especially since the EthicsPoint site was in place.

“So we worked with EthicsPoint and made some changes to the text; they design the system,” Donilon said.

The edict from Pope Francis, through a letter titled Vos estis lux mundi, received almost unanimous support from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore in June. In the letter, Pope Francis identifies substantive measures to respond to the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the church.

In addition to the reporting system, the edict also requires the establishment of new procedural norms for investigating crimes by bishops and supreme moderators of religious institutes, including both allegations of sexual abuse and any cover-up done by actions or omissions aimed at concealing information or interfering with investigations.

The Springfield Diocese is already facing accusations made by an altar boy against the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon. Last month, Rozanski announced that retired judge Peter A. Velis would immediately begin investigating these allegations of misconduct, some dating to the early 1960s, that have been made against Weldon, who died in 1982. The decision to have an independent investigation came, in part, due to understanding that the newly promulgated procedures by Pope Francis would likely not apply to those who have already died.

Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Springfield Diocese, said the independent work Velis will do is not impacted by the diocese participating in the online reporting system, noting that it just takes accusations against those still alive.

“This new system is designed only to handle complaints against living bishops,” Dupont said.

Until next May, the local system will be used to receive reports, at which time Donilon said he expects a transition to a national hotline. That national system will be designed to receive, via phone, email or website submission, confidential information reporting possible violations by bishops.

Previously, the church instituted mandatory reporting to civil authorities, protection and prevention training, and pastoral support and outreach for survivors, among other steps.

In June, the Springfield Diocese launched what it described as a “newly reorganized” Safe Environment & Victim Assistance Office. The office has responsibilities on non-bishop abuse and misconduct matters, including handling CORI checks; overseeing abuse awareness training for clergy members, religious and lay employees and church volunteers; and leading other church education and awareness programs.

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

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