Diocesan task force to recommend improvements for handling of abuse allegations

  • Members of the Independent Task Force on the Response to Sexual Abuse within the Diocese of Springfield. ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SPRINGFIELD

  • Members of the Independent Task Force on the Response to Sexual Abuse within the Diocese of Springfield. ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF SPRINGFIELD

  • Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski  FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/27/2020 3:59:03 PM

SPRINGFIELD — A 10-person independent task force will soon make recommendations focused on improving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct within the local church, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski announced Wednesday.

The Independent Task Force on the Response to Sexual Abuse within the diocese will be chaired by retired Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Daniel Ford and vice-chaired by Irene Woods, the founding executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and the North Quabbin, according to the diocese. 

“Their report will look like a strategic plan,” said Jeffrey Trant, director of the diocesan Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance and senior staff to the task force about its coming final report. “It will identify a number of strategic initiatives that are recommended to Bishop Rozanski that the diocese undertake to improve our safe environment response.”

In its mission statement, the task force noted that its work will be informed in part by the final report from retired Judge Peter A. Velis. The former judge is looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon by a Chicopee man who said the bishop abused him in the 1960s. Velis’ report is expected “in the near future” and will be made public once completed, the statement said.

Though the Velis report will be a “starting point,” Trant and diocesan officials said the task force will also collect data and information from other stakeholders, including direct feedback from other abuse survivors and family members. 

“This has been in preparation — we’ve been getting the infrastructure in place,” Trant said. “Essentially we’ve been building the vehicle so that we’re prepared and ready for when the Velis investigation has concluded.”

In its mission statement, the task force lays out six main areas in which it will provide Rozanski with specific steps on improving:

■Acknowledging the trauma of sexual abuse and ensuring the allocation of appropriate resources.

■Responding to allegations in a “timely, compassionate and fair way.

■Ensuring transparency in protocols and procedures.

■Ensuring local church leadership is held responsible for failing to protect vulnerable people.

■Holding those credibly accused accountable.

■Preventing sexual misconduct in the future.

The task force is the latest development from the diocese in its response to allegations of sexual misconduct among its clergy. 

Most recently, the diocese and local district attorneys reached an agreement that sets out standard reporting procedures for sexual abuse allegations. Trant was brought on in his current role in June 2019 and the diocese has since commissioned the Velis investigation and brought on a new team of investigators for abuse allegations.

Members of the task force are volunteers and met earlier in the year, Trant said. There is no time frame as to when the task force must complete its work, but Trant said there is a sense of significant urgency. 

“Our goal is to have it done as quickly as humanly possible,” Trant said.

In the statement, Rozanski said he is “uniquely aware” that the diocese has not provided a meaningful response to victims in the past.

“We owe all who we have failed to protect in the past a meaningful and transparent response to their important voice; we want to provide them with continuing support and healing while ensuring there is full accountability for any abuse; and, we hope to ensure a caring and safe faith community for all in the future,” Rozanski said in the statement.

Ford, chairman of the task force, said that recommended changes will be forwarded to Rozanski for “immediate implementation as they are developed.”

Trant said the task force will be an opportunity for the diocese to assess all aspects of its handling of abuse allegations to “establish a blueprint for what are the best practice steps we can take to improve our response and to help support healing and recovery for victims of abuse.”

After the task force’s report is finished, Trant said the diocese will move into its next phases of implementation and oversight of recommendations.

Other members of the task force include Orlando Isaza, Ronald Johnson, Rev. Michael Pierz, Sister of St. Joseph Mary Quinn, James Stankiewicz, Joan Tabachnick, Rev. William Tourigny, and Amber Zinni. Maurice Boisvert, of Shrewsbury, a licensed independent clinical social worker, will serve as a planning consultant to the task force.

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


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