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At Observance Of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Bishop Highlights Changes Made By Springfield Diocese

Bishop William Byrne speaking in front of a church
Paul Tuthill

     Apologizing again for the Roman Catholic Church’s failures to protect children, the bishop of the Springfield Diocese is marking national Child Abuse Prevention Month.

      In officially observing Child Abuse Prevention Month as a diocese, Bishop William Byrne called for church members to join him in “prayer and action.”

      "In marking this month, we acknowledge our past failures and recommit ourselves to improving our efforts," Byrne said.

      Standing next to the Children’s Memorial Flag displayed in front of Saint Michael’s Cathedral – the mother church of the Springfield Diocese – Byrne Wednesday highlighted changes that have been made by the diocese over the last two years to prevent abuse.

      These include background checks and training programs for clergy, lay employees, and volunteers, education programs in the Catholic schools, and a reorganization of the diocesan office responsible for investigating abuse allegations.

      "Children are a blessing from God," Byrne said. "To that end, we must acknowledge our need to do everything to protect them both during this month and year round."

      In an interview, Byrne said he is carrying through on the commitment of transparency he made when he was installed as bishop in December by adding the names of deceased priests to the public list the diocese maintains of those credibly accused of abuse.

    " Reviewing our list and making sure of what we have revealed so far and bring forth any names that have yet to be revealed," Byrne said.

     James Stankiewicz, a clergy sex abuse survivor, who is interim chair of the Diocesan Review Board said he has seen a “seismic shift” over the last 24 months in the diocese’s response to claims of abuse.

  "I see postive change that, frankly, took way too long to arrive," Stankiewicz said.

   And more change is likely coming.  An independent task force created 11 months ago has been gathering information from survivors, law enforcement, and others to prepare recommendations on improving the diocese’s handling of abuse.

   The chair of the task force, retired state judge Daniel Ford, said they expect to hand their final report to the bishop in June.

   "The task force is developing a strategic plan, not an operational plan," Ford said. "We are not taking any executive action, that is up to the bishop. But we hope the recommendations we make will enable the bishop to take those steps in a positive reinforcing way."

    Ford said the report will include examples of how the church failed to protect children in the past and recommendations for assuring it does not happen again.






The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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