Lawsuit highlights abuse cover-up allegations against St. Louis archbishop

CNA 5dcb94ef0e851 170889 Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski at the tomb of St. Peter during an ad limina visit Nov. 7, 2019./ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis is accused in a new lawsuit of covering up abuse allegations in his former diocese of Springfield, MA, which he led from 2014 until last year.

The plaintiff claims he suffered trauma as a result of the diocese’s mishandling of an abuse allegation he brought against Christopher J. Weldon, bishop of Springfield from 1950-1977. 

Rozanski has admitted that the diocese mishandled the abuse case, which the plaintiff says he first brought to the diocese’s attention in November 2014.

Pope Francis named Rozanski Archbishop of St. Louis in early June 2020, and he was installed as archbishop that August.

In a lawsuit filed in Hampden County Superior Court in Springfield Jan. 28, an alleged victim named only as John Doe, a former altar boy, alleges that Rozanski and other diocesan officials met his complaint with “deliberate indifference,” which caused him further trauma. 

In part, the suit accuses Rozanski of approving a statement to a local reporter which denied that Weldon had been accused of abuse, despite Doe’s statements to the diocesan review board. 

The plaintiff alleges that Weldon, along with two priests of the Springfield diocese, repeatedly abused him in the 1960s, and that he first remembered his abuse in 2013. Weldon died in 1982. 

Doe also says that while he brought his claim of abuse to two mandated reporters in 2014, those diocesan employees did not bring the allegation to Kevin Murphy— the diocesan investigator— or the local district attorney until 2018. 

Doe claims that he told the diocesan review board directly at a 2018 meeting that Weldon had raped him. 

At least three witnesses and a letter to Doe from the review board supported Doe's claim that he told the review board about Weldon in 2018, and that the review board acknowledged that Weldon had abused Doe. 

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During June 2019, Rozanski commissioned an independent investigation, 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 claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon were “unequivocally credible.”

The suit alleges, however, that public statements by the diocese following the 2018 diocesan review board meeting did not acknowledge the abuse allegation against Weldon. 

A contributing factor is a report delivered to the diocesan review board by Murphy, the diocesan investigator, which appeared to state that Weldon had not himself engaged in abuse. 

Investigator Murphy wrote several reports— four, according to the suit— on the alleged abuse of Doe following an interview with him. 

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In two of the four reports, Murphy said the plaintiff “stated that Bishop Weldon never molested him,” but was often present when other priests were abusing Doe, and that Weldon would try to “hug and pull [Doe] within reach.”

The Velis report found that it was this version of the report that was shared with the diocesan review board, despite Doe’s allegation of rape against Weldon at the meeting. The other two reports, which were not shared with the review board, were apparently more clear in accusing Weldon of abusing Doe.

As part of his investigation, Velis was given access to internal diocesan emails, several of which are highlighted in the lawsuit.

In one May 29, 2019 exchange, diocesan communication director Mark Dupont asked Rozanski, review board chairman John Hale, and diocesan lawyer John Eagan for guidance on how to respond to questions from a local reporter. 

The reporter, writing for The Berkshire Eagle, had asked why Weldon was not listed among the diocese's credibly accused clergy, despite Doe’s allegations against him. 

According to the emails, Egan recommended that Dupont tell the reporter, in part: “The Review Board has never found that Bishop Weldon engaged in improper contact with anyone.”

Rozanski replied to the suggestion from Egan, saying “Yes, thank you. This is a good response.”

In an email exchange the next day, Egan appeared to advise against acknowledging that Weldon was present at any of the instances of abuse, and also advised that the diocese’s statement to the reporter “lead with an allegation of abuse in the 1960s and the victim didn’t recover his memories until around 2017 or 2018.”

Doe says he first recovered his memories of the incident in 2013. 

Dupont subsequently told the Berkshire Eagle: “You should know that there is NO finding of sexual abuse of any person involving Bishop Weldon — NONE.”

For his part, Dupont told CNA last year that the Velis report “had no finding of any cover-up,” and that “our earliest public responses acknowledged Bishop Weldon was allegedly present where the abuse occurred.”

However, Velis said his findings raise questions about whether there was an attempt to conceal the diocesan investigator’s reports about Bishop Weldon from the review board or Bishop Rozanski. It was not the scope of his investigation to determine responsibility for the apparent deceptive practice or “if and when the reports were switched.”

Rozanski told Velis he was not aware of the specifics of Doe's allegation of abuse by Weldon, and did not know about the different reports about Doe's allegation produced by the diocesan investigator. Rozanski has said he knew that Weldon was accused of being “present during incidents of abuse that occurred.” 

In June 2020, following the report’s release, Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”

“At almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well to a deep desire for a just response for the terrible abuse which he endured,” the then-archbishop-designate said at a press conference, one year after he commissioned Velis to conduct the investigation.

Weldon is now named on the Springfield diocese website as a “deceased bishop who was found to have credible allegations of abuse.”

Doe is seeking a jury trial, damages, and court costs. 

Both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Springfield have, to other publications, declined to comment on pending cases.