Survey shows opinions about diocese’s response to sexual abuse allegations 

  • Peter A. Velis FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — Over 50 percent of people who responded to an online survey by a task force charged with improving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield’s response to allegations of sexual abuse say that they disagree that the diocese has “responded to all allegations of sexual abuse in our church community in a timely, compassionate and fair way.”

These were part of preliminary results released Tuesday from a survey that was available on the diocese’s website from Oct. 8 to Oct. 19 that garnered 492 responses. It asked respondents to rate their perception of the diocese and to provide recommendations that the Independent Task Force on the Response to Sexual Abuse within the diocese should consider making, according to a statement released by the diocese.

“The results of the survey established a baseline for how people perceived the current and past response by the diocese,” Jeffrey Trant, director of the diocesan Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance, said in a statement. “With the help of these responses, the task force is developing a strategic plan that we hope will significantly improve the response to these allegations while supporting healing and reconciliation for survivors and their families and the faith community.”

The Springfield Diocese is composed of 164,799 Catholics, 79 parishes and seven missions in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties. Trant said the survey was announced at parishes throughout the diocese, in an op-ed published around the region, and was covered by local news media.

This past June, retired Judge Peter A. Velis found that allegations by a Chicopee man that the late bishop Christopher J. Weldon sexually abused him while he was a boy in the 1960s are legitimate. Velis also found diocesan officials investigating the initial allegations failed to properly report their findings to legal authorities.

The 10-person task force will present a report to diocesan officials that will make recommendations as to how the diocese can better respond to allegations of sexual misconduct within the local church. The task force expects to present its results to Bishop-designate William D. Byrne after he is installed as bishop of Springfield on Dec. 14 and then release its final report in early 2021.

The survey had people rank their level of agreement with six different statements related to the diocese’s handling of sexual abuse complaints within the church. The first statement asked if respondents agreed that the diocese “acknowledged the trauma of sexual abuse on members of our community and ensured the allocation of resources needed to promote healing of our survivors.”

To this statement, 53.2%, or 262 people, said they either agreed or strongly agreed; and 26.7%, or 132 people, disagreed or strongly  disagreed. A total of 70 people, or  around 14.2%, neither agreed nor disagreed; and 28 people, or 5.7%, didn’t know.

When asked if the diocese has “responded to all allegations of sexual abuse in our church community in a timely, compassionate and fair way,” around 52.6% of respondents, or 259 people, said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed. Around 16.8% of respondents, or 83 people, either agreed or strongly agreed. Around 17.9%, or 88 people, neither agreed nor disagreed; and 12.6% of respondents, or 62 people, didn’t know.

Asked if the diocese “has held those who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse responsible and accountable,” 38% of respondents, or 187 people, said they either disagree or strongly disagree. Around 33.7% of respondents, or 166 people,either agreed or strongly agreed. Around 17.3%, or 85 people, neither agree nor disagreed; and around 11%, or 54 people, didn’t know.

Each question was accompanied by a self-response section that Trant said is currently being analyzed by the task force. Full results of the survey are available online at diospringfield.org.