Bishop Weldon accuser files lawsuit against Springfield diocese
A former altar boy who accused the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of sexual assault — and whose claim was found to be “unequivocally credible” following a review ordered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield — has filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for the physical harm he suffered in the 1960s and continued emotional distress.
The plaintiff, identified as “John Doe” of Chicopee, says he was between 9 and 11 years old when he was raped multiple times at multiple locations by Weldon and two other members of the clergy.
In a 26-page lawsuit filed in Hampden Superior Court and first reported by The Berkshire Eagle, the plaintiff alleges that current and past church officials, including former Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski and the diocese’s longtime attorney, John. J. Egan, engaged in a cover-up to protect Weldon’s legacy.
“In failing to take action and/or intentionally concealing plaintiff’s complaint over a period of four years, the RCBS (Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield) demonstrated a callous disregard toward plaintiff’s suffering, further victimizing plaintiff,” the suit alleges.
In addition to Egan and Rozanski, who is now archbishop of St. Louis, the complaint names as defendants the office of the Springfield bishop; Monsignor Christopher Connelly; Patricia McManamy, director of Counseling, Prevention and Victim Services; Jeffrey Trant, director of the office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance; John Hale, Review Board chairman; Kevin Murphy, diocesan investigator; and Mark Dupont, diocesan communications director.
The suit alleges the plaintiff recounted his experiences in November 2014 to Connelly and McManamy, who were mandated reporters. Neither immediately notified the Hampden County District Attorney’s office of the allegations.
In addition, the suit claims diocesan officials attempted to coverup the allegations and undermine the plaintiff.
“Rozanski, Dupont, Trant, Hale and Egan conspired to undermine the plaintiff’s credibility and to cover up the RCBS’s knowledge that Weldon had in fact raped the plaintiff,” the suit states. “Rozanski, Dupont, Trant, Hale and Egan intentionally intended to brand plaintiff a liar, one of the most reprehensible things that can be done to a victim of abuse.”
The plaintiff is seeking a jury trial. He is represented by attorneys Nancy Frankel Pelletier and David S. Lawless.
Carolee McGrath, the Springfield diocese’s media relations manager, said Tuesday the diocese does not comment on pending civil litigation.
In June 2020, a year-long review of sexual abuse allegations against Weldon, who led the Springfield diocese for more than 25 years, found the accusations to be “unequivocally credible.”
Retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis’ report concluded “the allegations of the Complainant of sexual molestation committed upon him by Bishop Christopher J Weldon, both as a principal, and as a ‘coventurer’ that included anal rape, indecent assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress are unequivocally credible. The allegations that were investigated and examined are not dubious, vague or ambiguous in any essentials nor are they the product of any chimerical conception, fabrication or schematic design. The unsavory and heinous nature of the offensive behavior attributed to the late bishop is clearly shocking.”
In an executive summary, Velis criticized the diocesan Review Board that heard the alleged victim’s account in June 2018.
“It was clear in my examination that the process included an inexplicable modification and manipulation of the reports received by and acted on by the Diocesan Review Board,” Velis wrote. “Additionally the complaint process was compromised in that mandatory reporters failed in their duties to report the allegations to prosecutorial authorities.”
In “evaluating the actions of those involved in the Weldon assessment,” Velis said he found a “reluctance to fervently pursue an evaluation of allegations against (Weldon) due to his prominence and revered legacy in the religious community.”
Weldon’s 27 years as Springfield’s fourth bishop, starting in 1950, were influential in the growth of the diocese. However, they also have emerged as years when many allegations of sexual abuse by clergy occurred — as well as the murder of an altar boy in which a former priest, Richard R. Lavigne, remains the only publicly identified suspect.
The former bishop died in 1982.