Deceased Massachusetts bishop accused of sexual abuse had roots in New York archdiocese

Deceased Massachusetts bishop accused of sexual abuse had roots in New York archdiocese

St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, Mass. Credit: John Phelan/wikimedia CC BY SA 3.0
St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, Mass. Credit: John Phelan/wikimedia CC BY SA 3.0

.- Archbishop-designate Mitchell Rozanski, who will take over the Archdiocese of St. Louis this month, oversaw an investigation into the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of Springfield, Mass, a bishop credibly accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in the 1960s. Rozanski has faced criticism for some aspects of his handling of the case, which the bishop said had been mishandled for years.

In 2018 an alleged victim, known under the pseudonym John Doe, told the Springfield diocesan review board that Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, who retired in 1977 and died in 1982, had abused him when he was an altar boy in the 1960s. Two priests also abused him, he said.

However, Bishop Weldon was not listed on the Springfield diocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of abuse. Although 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, the review board only acknowledged Doe’s claim that the two priests had abused him. When the matter became controversial in 2019, then-Bishop Mitchell Rozanski commissioned an independent investigation.

On June 24, the diocese released a 373-page report finding that Doe’s claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon was “unequivocally credible.” It found an investigator employed by the diocese had produced two reports on Doe’s accusations, only one of which was clear in naming Weldon. The investigator is no longer employed by the diocese.

Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”

The Springfield diocese now lists Weldon on its list of credibly accused diocesan priests and deacons. While the list says the clergy “had one or more credible allegations of sexual abuse of a child made against them while they were living,” Weldon was not accused while he was alive.

The New York archdiocese does not include Weldon on its list of credibly accused priests, though he left the archdiocese in 1950. CNA has been unable to confirm whether the Archdiocese of New York or St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he previously served as a priest, have been formally notified about the case.

CNA sought comment from the Diocese of Springfield, the Archdiocese of New York, and New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but did not receive a response by deadline.

There are no consistent church norms regarding notification of a credible allegation of abuse when a priest or bishop is from another diocese.

Article 7 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People says that dioceses are to be “open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved.”

“This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by sexual abuse of a minor,” said the charter.

Weldon was ordained Bishop of Springfield in 1950, after coming to prominence in the Archdiocese of New York. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1929 and was a U.S. Navy chaplain during World War II. He then served as master of ceremonies under the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman, who appointed him executive director of Catholic Charities of New York in 1947, his New York Times obituary reports.

He served as a trustee of the University of Massachusetts and was president of Elms College, a Catholic women’s liberal arts college in Chicopee, from 1958 to 1977.

Weldon’s alleged collaborators in abusing Doe were the priests Edward Authier, who died in 1970, and Clarence Forand, who died in May 2005 at the age of 87. Both served at St. Anne’s Parish in Chicopee.

In 1993 a diocesan review board ruled credible a 1992 allegation that Forand sexually abused a minor for nearly 10 years. Forand denied the accusation, which did not become public until 2004.

Authier’s name was not made public until the controversy over Doe’s accusation. The Springfield diocese’s website of priests credibly accused of abuse now lists the names of Weldon and Forand, but not Authier.

Weldon is not the first Springfield bishop to be accused of sexually abusing a minor.

In February 2004, Bishop Thomas Dupre resigned and left the state to check into a medical facility soon after being confronted by allegations he had sexually abused two teen boys in the 1970s.

In September 2004, he became the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. to be indicted on criminal charges for sexual abuse. While prosecutors argued the then-statutes of limitations did not apply to the case because Dupre allegedly took steps to conceal the abuse as recently as 2003, then-District Attorney William Bennett said the case would not go to trial due to the statute of limitations on some charges and because the grand jury decided not to indict on other charges, The Republican newspaper reported.

Dupre also came under criticism for his response to convicted sex abuser and laicized priest Richard L. Lavigne, a suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of a Springfield altar boy named Daniel Croteau. The Vatican laicized the priest in 2004.

Dupre served the Springfield diocese as vicar general, chancellor and auxiliary bishop. When he was named an auxiliary bishop in 1990 and when he was named Bishop of Springfield in 1995, he allegedly called his victims to ensure they would not report abuse.

Some commentators believe both Weldon and Dupre controlled what information was kept in the diocesan archives, the Springfield newspaper The Republican reports.

Sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church peaked in the period from 1970 to 1974, according to the U.S. bishops’ reports on child protection. Thousands of victims have come forward and Catholic dioceses and religious orders have paid billions of dollars in lawsuits and other settlements.

Doe claimed that Weldon abused boys in collaboration with priests. A similar allegation has arisen in a recent lawsuit against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which characterized him as a leader of a “sex ring” with abusive priests while he was Bishop of Metuchen, N.J.

While McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and laicized after a credible allegation against him was made public in 2018, the allegation concerning a “sex ring” has not yet been substantiated. It comes from controversial lawyer Jeff Anderson, whom critics consider to be a self-promoter who has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation.

Like Weldon, McCarrick was among the hundreds of priests serving in the Archdiocese of New York. McCarrick was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 1977.

Tags: Catholic News, Clerical sexual abuse

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