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Springfield Diocese settles lawsuit filed by Chicopee man who alleges he was raped by Bishop Weldon

Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of Springfield, Mass., during procession to receive the Crozier (symbol of office) from the Most Rev. Richard J. Cushing, archbishop of Boston, March 28, 1950 at St. Michael's Cathedral.
Abe Fox
/
AP
Bishop Christopher J. Weldon of Springfield, Mass., during procession to receive the Crozier (symbol of office) from the Most Rev. Richard J. Cushing, archbishop of Boston, March 28, 1950 at St. Michael's Cathedral.

The Springfield, Massachusetts, Roman Catholic Diocese announced Friday it has settled a lawsuit alleging clergy abuse by the late Bishop Christopher Weldon — and a coverup by church officials decades later.

The case was brought by a Chicopee man who alleges, as an altar boy in the 1960s, he was brutally raped multiple times by Weldon and other priests. Weldon died in 1982.

The man, known in court documents as John Doe, also alleged diocese officials in recent years tried to cover up Weldon's acts, issuing false statements to the media.

"Mr. Doe’s allegations were determined to be credible, therefore, any public statement made on behalf of the Diocese in May or June of 2019 that is inconsistent with that is withdrawn," Bishop William Byrne said in a statement. "We apologize to Mr. Doe for any harm those statements caused. We regret that interaction with the Diocese and civil litigation, often the last stop in trying to resolve these cases, can leave survivors feeling revictimized."

The diocese has fought the lawsuit since it was filed in January 2021, even taking some of its objections as high as the state's Supreme Judicial Court. But Byrne praised the plaintiff in his statement Friday.

"I commend John Doe for his courage in coming forward in this matter and by his persistence highlighting areas we must improve. We will," said Byrne, who became bishop after the diocese's alleged actions.

Byrne's statement did not say how much money the diocese agreed to pay or other conditions of the settlement, and a spokesperson has not answered a request for those details.

Nancy Frankel Pelletier, a lawyer for the plaintiff, said the settlement's contents are confidential.

In a statement on behalf of her client, Pelletier pointed to a 2020 report prepared by retired Judge Peter Velis, commissioned by the diocese. The Velis report called the allegations against Weldon "unequivocally credible" and criticized the diocese's response as "woefully deficient."

"The fact that Mr. Doe was forced to pursue litigation in the face of the [Velis] report ... confirms the Church’s continuing failure, despite protestations to the contrary, to accept responsibility for the atrocities committed," Pellettieri said in an email. "It is Mr. Doe’s hope that Bishop Byrne’s statement will be heeded, and that no other survivor will be revictimized for speaking their truth."

The likelihood of a deal became clear in April, when a scheduled May 3 trial date was postponed due to a reported settlement. The parties had until July to file final paperwork with Hampden Superior Court Judge Karen Goodwin.

"As a Church we have learned from Mr. Doe and improved our processes. For that we thank Mr. Doe and wish him the best in his ongoing efforts to deal with the effects of abuse," Bryne said in his statement. "The Diocese’s assistance with counseling remains available to Mr. Doe as he travels that path, as it is with all survivors who assert credible claims of abuse by Diocesan personnel."

Nancy Cohen contributed.

Updated: May 26, 2023 at 4:21 PM EDT
This story has been updated to include a statement released by the plaintiff's attorney.
Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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