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Springfield Diocese Revamps Response To Clergy Sex Abuse

Springfield Bishop Mitchel Rozanski
WAMC
/

     The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has restructured the department responsible for overseeing clergy sex abuse allegations.

   Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski said the newly-named Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance will have a free hand to review practices and policies and conduct an independent examination of past cases to see if anything was overlooked or mishandled.

   "Our goal is to deal compassionately and justly with those who come forward to us," said Rozanski.

   Along with a new name for the former office of Child & Youth Protections come new people.

   Jeffrey Trant, a licensed social worker and certified psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner, is the director of the new department. Li-Ling Lam-Waller has been hired as compliance officer. She previously worked in the finance office at the diocese.

   The restructuring follows a series of meetings Rozanski held earlier this year in parishes throughout the four western Massachusetts counties in response to concerns about how the diocese handles clergy sex abuse allegations.

  "Today we build upon a system, though no perfect, has done a commedable job in responding to past complaints," said Rozanski.

   Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced a third-party reporting system for cases where a bishop is accused of sex abuse.

   "It would be a totaling independent investigation," said Rozanski, who added " The catch with the bishops is that only the Pope can discipline bishops."

   Later this week, Rozanski is meeting with a clergy sex abuse victim who told the Berkshire Eagle that he named the late Springfield Bishop Christopher Weldon as a sex abuser during testimony to the diocesan Review Board last year.

  There were 15 cases of clergy sex abuse reported to the diocese last year – the most since 2004 – according to data the diocese released in February.   A spokesman at the time attributed the spike to heightened national reporting about clergy sex abuse.  The majority of the newly reported cases were about incidents alleged to have taken place decades ago.

   Also in February, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced a hotline to report allegations of clergy sex abuse.  He said there were discrepancies between the statistics reported by the diocese and case files in his office.

   For now, there are no changes in the clergy sex abuse reporting procedures in the diocese, according to Trant.

    "My first order of business is to understand what our existing practice has been and work in collaboration with authorties and with the district attorneys' offices to assure we are upholding best practices when it comes to reporting," said Trant.

    Trant said he is “humbled to be at service to survivors of clergy sex abuse.”

    "My focus has been on supporting individuals affected by trauma, and that really is the nexus of the work here: to protect and to also ensure we are helping to provide individuals with services to help support with their recovery," said Trant.

   In addition to outreach and providing assistance to victims, the new office is responsible for conducting criminal background checks on anyone hired by the diocese, or anyone who volunteers at a church or school.  The department also trains diocesan employees on mandatory abuse reporting laws.

  

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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