A task force has been announced to look at the response to sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
Acknowledging the diocese has not always responded adequately to victims of abuse, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski said he is looking to the 10-person task force, which he said is made up of a “diverse group of distinguished individuals” to recommend how to improve.
"With the recommendations of this task force, it is my sincere hope that as the church of western Massachusetts we will be both proactive in preventing any type of abuse and respond with prompt action to any type of abuse allegation," said Rozanski.
The starting point for the work of the task force is a not yet finished report on how the diocese handled the allegations of sexual abuse against the late Bishop Christopher Weldon. Last year, retired state Judge Peter Velis was hired by the diocese to investigate after Weldon’s accuser alleged a coverup by the Diocesan Review Board.
Rozanski said the report from Judge Velis has not been delivered to the diocese, but is expected soon. He said he had not been briefed about the content of the report.
The task force, which was created late last year, is in position to hit the ground running once Velis’ report is submitted, explained Rozanski.
"I also see it that if there is anything immediately that needs to be changed, I would work on that, but I would see the bulk of the recommendations coming from the independent task force," Rozanski said.
The new task force is chaired by another retired state judge, Daniel Ford.
At a news conference Wednesday, Ford said the group will advise the Bishop on steps that can be taken to make improvements in several areas including how the church responds to allegations, holds people accountable, and acknowledges the trauma caused by sexual abuse.
"We are setting no time deadline," said Ford. He said the group would take what time it needs to be "thorough and comprehensive."
The vice-chair of the task force is Irene Woods, founding executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Franklin County and the North Quabbin.
Last year, Rozanski announced a reorganization of the diocesan office responsible for overseeing clergy sex abuse allegations. The director of the office, Jeffrey Trant, will serve as the staff to the task force.
He said he will provide technical assistance to the panel and ultimately carry out its recommendations.
"It is an independent group," Trant said when asked if he saw any conflict in his roles. "They are here to advise the Bishop. I am here to provide assistance to them."
Since taking over as director of the diocesan Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, Trant has hired a new team of investigators, according to a press release from the diocese.
He also negotiated with the three district attorneys’ offices in western Massachusetts to produce a joint memorandum of understanding for the diocese to report allegations of sex abuse to law enforcement.