Springfield Bishop Appoints Sexual Abuse Task Force Co-Chairs | Catholic National Register


The Springfield Diocese faces criticism for its handling of historic sexual abuse cases, including an abuse allegation against a deceased former bishop.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts announced the appointment of two social workers to lead an independent task force responding to sexual abuse.

Bishop William Byrne, who took the helm in Springfield in December 2020, announced Monday that clinical social worker Irene Woods and Orlando Isaza, a social worker and community activist, will co-chair the task force. The objective of the working group is to write a report on how the diocese can better respond to cases of sexual abuse.

The task force was initially chaired by retired Massachusetts Superior Court judge Daniel Ford.

Woods, a former vice chairman of the task force, is the founding executive director of the Franklin County and North Quabbin Children’s Advocacy Center, and is a member of the City of Greenfield Domestic Violence Task Force, Greenfield reported. Recorder.

Co-chair Isaza, formerly a member of the task force, was previously a program officer at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and was a faculty member at the Smith College School for Social Work.

The mandate of the task force is to advise the bishop on how to recognize the trauma of sexual abuse; create a transparent system for handling allegations; ensure that local church leaders are held accountable for failing to protect children and other vulnerable people; hold people credibly accused of sexual abuse to account; and to prevent sexual abuse in the future, the Recorder reported.

The task force is expected to release a report “by the end of the summer” based on interviews with abuse survivors and members of the diocesan clergy, as well as community surveys.

The Springfield Diocese faces criticism for its handling of historic sexual abuse cases, including an abuse allegation against a deceased former bishop.

Former Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, now Archbishop of St. Louis, admitted the diocese had mismanaged the abuse case in question, which the complainant says first brought to the diocese’s attention in November 2014.

In a trial Filed in Hampden County Superior Court in Springfield on Jan. 28, an alleged victim of abuse named only John Doe, a former altar boy, alleged that Rozanski and other diocesan officials responded to his complaint with a ” willful indifference , which caused him further trauma.

The alleged victim, identified as John Doe, claims to have suffered trauma as a result of the diocese’s mismanagement of an abuse allegation it brought against the late Christopher Weldon, who served as Bishop of Springfield from 1950 to 1977.

Doe, a former altar boy, alleged that Bishop Weldon, along with two priests from the Diocese of Springfield, repeatedly abused him in the 1960s, and said he first remembered times of his abuse in 2013. Weldon died in 1982.

In June 2019, Bishop Rozanski commissioned an independent inquiry, led by retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis, into the handling of the allegation against Weldon. The 373-page report concluded that Doe’s claims that he was assaulted by Bishop Weldon were “unequivocally credible.”

The prosecution alleged, however, that public statements from the diocese following the 2018 Diocesan Review Board meeting failed to acknowledge the abuse allegation against Weldon due to conflicting reports from a diocesan investigator. The court this month rejected the diocese’s request to dismiss the case.

In June 2020, following the publication of the Velis report, Archbishop Rozanski apologized for “the chronic mismanagement of the case, time and time again, since 2014”. The Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Springfield have, compared to other publications, declined to comment on the pending cases.

Bishop Rozanski created the working group in May 2020. Announcing the creation of the group, the bishop said the diocese “has not always provided a meaningful or pastoral response to victims of abuse,” and stated his hope that the group would help the diocese to “improve our policies and procedures.”

This is not the first time that abuse concerns regarding a bishop have surfaced in the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts.

In 2004, Bishop Thomas Dupre became the first Catholic bishop in the United States to be indicted on criminal charges of sexual abuse. The case was not tried due to the statute of limitations on some charges and because the grand jury decided not to indict other charges, the Republican reported. Bishop Dupré was Bishop of Springfield from 1995 to 2004.

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