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Articles, Editorials & News Items

article - Catholic governance bill dies in Connecticut (Mar 11, '09)
editorial - The church's future is now (Jan 23, 2009)
article - Diocese resolves 59 abuse claims through voluntary arbitration (Nov 27, '08)
letter - A mistaken assumption (Nov 24, '08)
letter - What is diocese hiding on settlements? (Nov 21, '08)
editorial - The case for St. Stanislaus (Sep 23, '08)
column - "Woe is me" game an insult to Church (Sep 10, '08)
letter - A mea culpa need from Diocese (Aug 29, '08)
letter - Closings, claims are unconnected (Aug 26, '08)
editorial - Answers before closing (Aug 24, '08)
editorial - All should participate in pastoral planning (Aug 22, '08)
letter - Laity involvement was just a sham (Aug 20, '08)
letter - St. Stan's will appeal its closing (Aug 18, '08)
editorial - Battling the all-powerful (Aug 14, '08)
article - Little faith - in the diocese (Aug 13, '08)
Editorial - A halt to church closings (Aug 13, '08)
article - Bosley Wants More Dialogue on Church Closings (Aug 13, '08)
editorial - Another Step Forward (Jul 11, '08)
article - Diocesan attorney answers questions about recent settlement (Jul 11, '08)
article - Springfield Diocese settles with its insurance carriers, offers arbitration (Jul 11, '08)
article - Diocesan attorney answers questions about recent settlement (Jul 11, '08)
letter - Hard questions for the church hierarchy (Jul 8, '08)
editorial - Settlement, No Answers (Jul 6, '08)
letter - Church coverup one of deadly sins (Jul '08)
article - Alleged abuse victim calls for priest to be defrocked (Jun 25, '08)
editorial - A Hearing for St. Teresa's (Jun 21, '08)
article - Parish Won't Surrender (Jun 20, '08)
letter - Clergy Abuse Crimes Are Forever (May 6, '08)
letter - Don't Blame Victims of Clergy Abuse (Apr 28, '08)
column - To Avoid Victimhood, Try Forgiveness (Apr 26, '08)
letter - Move Beyond Clergy Abuse Scandal (Apr 25, '08)
article - Uncertain Church Awaits Pope in U.S. (Apr 14, '08)
article - Opponents of Parish Closings See Opportunity (Apr 14, '08)
article - Springfield area woman alleges priest abused her two young sons (Apr 09, '08)
letter - Parishioners' Decision, Not Diocese's (Mar 19, '08)
letter - Diocese is flouting canon law (Mar 12, '08)
article - A discussion of religion (Mar 09, '08)
letter - Celebrate Work of City Catholics (Feb 20, "08)
letter - Catholic Church is Strong, Viable (Feb 17, '08)
editorial - A Loss for City Catholics (Feb 12, '08)
letter - Catholic laity welcomes debate (Dec 10, '07)
editorial - A Spoonful of Sugar (Dec '07)
letter - Transcript editorial unfair to Diocese of Springfield (Dec 06, 07)
editorial - Praying for a Miracle (Nov 19, 07)

article - Diocese resolves 59 abuse claims through voluntary arbitration
Staff report - Diocesan Web Site (http://www.iobserve.org/rn1126a.html)
November 27, 2008

SPRINGFIELD – The Diocese of Springfield has reached agreements with 59 men and women who came forward to speak of their past abuse by clergy and religious. Each had been invited to participate in a voluntary arbitration process.

The claims of abuse date back to 1948. In addition to these financial settlements, all victims remain eligible to receive continuing counseling and assistance programs through the diocese.

In total, $4.5 million was awarded on Nov. 20. This was paid entirely through a fund set up by diocesan insurance carriers under an agreement reached with the diocese in late June. Attorney John J. Egan, legal counsel to the Diocese of Springfield, spearheaded the four-year effort to get insurance carriers to fulfill their obligations to the victims. He said he was thankful that there was 100 percent participation by those invited to take part in the mediation.

“The level of participation was extraordinary and in my view a tribute to fairness of the process. We are very pleased,” Egan said. “The claimants’ patience was a key part to our being able to recover from the insurance carriers and put together a process for resolving their individual claims that drew their complete participation.

“Finally, we recognize this does not provide closure for them, but we see it as support and assistance as they seek to mend their lives. For that reason, the programs offered through the Office of Victim Assistance will still be available to them.”

Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell said that it was out of a sense of moral responsibility that the diocese reached out to those suffering the aftereffects of clergy sexual abuse.

“It's a terrible thing for anyone to suffer sexual abuse, but even more so for a child,” he said. “The aftereffects impact the person's whole life. My prayer is that a small step toward healing takes place through these settlements. I apologize to all who have been hurt.”

A Hampden County Grand Jury convened in 2004 and, more recently, the insurance carriers had conducted separate and expansive reviews of diocesan records from the time periods in question. Neither inquiry produced any evidence that the diocese had fore-knowledge of the wrongdoing.

Each of the accused in these 59 cases, including clergy and a single woman religious, has been out of public ministry for years, or is deceased.

Included in those who settled the cases were the two people who alleged misconduct by former Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupré when he was a diocesan priest in the 1970s. The former Springfield bishop financially contributed in those two settlements.

The arbitration process was handled by Paul Finn and Brian Mone of Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation in Brockton, Mass. They were chosen based on their experience in mediating many sexual abuse claims throughout New England.

The arbitration process provided the victims with a hearing at which they could tell their stories and not be subject to questioning by attorneys for the insurance carriers or the diocese. After hearing from the victims, and witnesses they offered, and reviewing medical materials, the mediators awarded each individual an amount between $5,000 and $200,000.

The diocese waived all legal defenses including the statute of limitations or charitable immunity for these cases.

In order to be eligible to participate in this voluntary arbitration process, the claimants first had to complete for the arbitrators, under oath, a confidential questionnaire developed by the insurance carriers. The process only applied to credible, pending claims of which the diocese had notice by noon on June 2, 2008, concerning acts which took place prior to October 1986. This stipulation was established because these carriers had stopped providing insurance after 1986.

Four claimants were not offered the opportunity to participate in the process. In these four cases, the claims were found to be not credible. These individuals may still seek action through the courts, although the diocese has indicated it will now assert all of its legal rights, including charitable immunity, in any future cases.

At the June announcement of the mediation plan, the diocese and its insurers indicated that up to $5 million could be allocated for settlements. With the arbitration process now complete, checks for $4.5 million have been sent out. The diocese is retaining approximately $500,000 for claims not covered by these settlements and other victim services that may arise in the future.

The diocese has now paid out nearly $12.5 million to victims of abuse. Twenty five percent of those claims involved time periods in which the diocese did not have insurance. For the claims which were covered by insurance, nearly $8.5 million was covered by the insurance carriers.

Funds provided by the diocese came from discretionary accounts and not from direct contributions to the diocese, its parishes or the Annual Catholic Appeal.

There are eight claims still pending against the diocese, six of which have been found “not credible” by either the Diocesan Review Board or attorneys for the diocese. The remaining two are in the process of presenting their claims to the review board. These cases will be reviewed with assistance from the mediators in early 2009.

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letter - A mistaken assumption
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
Monday November 24, 2008

In response to Robert Kelly's letter ("What is diocese hiding on settlements?" Nov. 20), I would respectfully suggest that he has made at least one mistaken assumption, and without checking those facts, submitted that mistaken assumption as though it were fact and as the basis for his Letter to the Editor.

In our published statements in early July the diocese promised to issue checks by Nov. 20 to those claimants who participated in the voluntary mediation process. We have complied with that promise. And while we made no specific promise as to when we would announce those settlements, we will do so, but just not before these individuals receive their settlement. We believe these victims are entitled to that courtesy.

Furthermore, after our July announcement outlining the terms of this process, the diocese did agree to slightly extend some of the deadlines throughout this process to allow victims more time to decide whether or not they wanted to participate in the mediation.

We felt it was a reasonable request since many of these persons had waited years for our insurance carriers to provide this resolution. Mr. Kelly's appraisal aside, I would welcome any comparison of reporting contained within The Catholic Observer and that found in other major regional newspapers. Despite the difficulties we have faced our diocesan newspaper has been forthright in its reporting, never straying from the facts no matter how painful they have sometimes been.


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letter - What is diocese hiding on settlements?
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
Friday November 21, 2008

"Settlement" usually conveys finality, but yesterday, Nov. 20, today, what might have been a final "Settlement Day" for the survivors of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Springfield Diocese is instead a day of dubious achievement. Under the terms agreed to in June, the final payments are scheduled to be made today for close to 60 claims made against the diocese.

But, an occasion which might have carried an air of finality, and maybe even hope, instead feels quite different, at least to me. I can't shake the feeling that this is a milestone that may be a millstone, dragging the diocese and those who belong to it further down, instead of lifting us up.

For proof, one need look no further than the tone of the announcements back in July, which ranged from calculated understatement from Bishop McDonnell to calculated overstatement by our lawyer, Mr. Egan, who found that "we were right all along," though he failed to explain how, if we were so right, we left $3.5 million on the table. Still, there was hope in July that the faithful Catholics of the diocese would hear more about the settlement.

Instead, it is remarkable to me how little explanation or ongoing coverage of the settlement has appeared in the Catholic Observer, the official newspaper of the diocese. There were three articles in the July 11 issue, but over the next nine issues, there was a solitary article on August 22 about how many had accepted the settlement. This falls far short of what was supposed to happen, according to the Dallas Norms.

Shortly after the 2004 settlement, attorney John Stobierski commented in the Springfield Republican: "The Dallas Norms set forth the fact that these settlements will not be done in secret any longer. To that end, my clients want the names of priests who allegedly abused them made public."

Let's look closer at these guidelines from the Dallas Charter published on Dec. 8, 2002, by the U.S. bishops, in the document formally known as the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" (Revised Edition). The Norms also state explicitly in Article 7 that "Each diocese . . . will develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness."

Reading these noble goals of the Charter, and comparing them to the response of the Springfield Diocese, I'm wondering: Where is the transparency? Where is the openness? If you go to the diocesan Web site right now (www.diospringfield.org) you will find nothing about the settlement. It is as if it had never happened. The sole exception are the press releases from July 2, which are there, albeit buried.

When the church media will not do the job, it falls to other media to step up. While the Springfield Republican and Berkshire Eagle have been diligent, they cannot do it all. So maybe it's understandable that even though the Springfield Republican published a list of all accused priests from the 2004 settlement on Aug. 17, 2004, a companion list for 2008 has not appeared.

But, since this type of disclosure is certainly encouraged, if not mandated, by the Dallas Norms, we are left to wonder — why did the Diocese not follow suit, and publish such a list in 2004? Why did no information about the 2004 settlement get posted and remain on its Web site? And why has the diocese not used its Web site to publish information about the 2008 settlement, and list the accused priests?


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editorial - The case for St. Stanislaus
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Churches will be closed shortly in Northern Berkshire County, just as they are being closed elsewhere in the Diocese of Springfield and throughout the state. It's the obligation of the diocese to collect and consider all of the necessary information and make the right choice, a tough task that will be made easier if it works closely with parishioners, which hasn't always been the case up to now.

Bishop Timothy McDonnell and Monsignor John Bonzagni have met with 11 parishioners from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Adams, including Laurie Haas, who presented a detailed report making the case against closing the church, which is scheduled to shut its doors in about three months. The argument for St. Stanislaus is a strong one, based on its solid attendance and in particular a financial viability that many churches in Berkshire County do not share. A certified public accountant commissioned by Ms. Haas found that St. Stanislaus' lower maintenance costs contribute significantly to that viability, and its small campus also makes it easier to keep the church building and surroundings in good shape.

St. Stanislaus is also a spectacularly beautiful church and would be a huge loss aesthetically. It is also the heart of the Adams Polish community, which is not a small consideration. The current plan in Adams is to close St. Stanislaus and St. Thomas Church and offer services at Notre Dame. The closing of any church is painful and every church has its adherents, but St. Stanislaus emerges as a poorer choice the more that is learned about the options.

Monsignor Bonzagni argued in The Transcript last week that it is irrelevant to compare the finances of different parishes because when a new parish is combined all of the finances would be combined as well. This assumes, of course, that disgruntled Catholics will stay in the "new parish" or will contribute to this "new parish" as generously as they did before. Parishioners do have loyalties to specific churches, like St. Stanislaus, and those loyalties extend backwards for generations. This reality continues to elude the diocese.

The party line from the diocese hierarchy is that the churches are buildings and parishioners' attachment to the buildings makes it difficult for the diocese to make necessary closings, but these buildings personify the church in communities like Adams and their long history. Because weddings, baptisms, First Communions and funeral services are all conducted there, they have great significance to parishioners. Yes, they burn a lot of oil, as the monsignor points out, and some will have to be closed, but to write them off as simply buildings reveals a detachment from the concerns of church-goers in Adams and elsewhere.

On behalf of a group of parishioners, Ms. Haas has appealed to the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome to keep the church open. This appeal to the Vatican is a long shot at best, but it may not come to that. Bishop McDonnell and Monsignor Bonzagni made a welcome trip west to meet with St. Stanislaus advocates and the argument made on behalf of the Adams church are difficult to refute.

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column - "Woe is me" game insult to Church
By Dan Valenti
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A bishop closes a church for the same reason a restaurant goes out of business. When congregations go missing and customers don't show up, what other choice does a prelate or a restaurateur have?

Catholic churches are not established lightly, nor are restaurants opened on a whim. Each represents a gamble of need. The first rolls the dice on the premise that most people need an encounter with God. The second places its bet on the workings of the marketplace, that supply and demand will create a need for its food.

The congregation attends a service. The customer receives service. A church passes out missals, and a restaurant passes out menus. Each offers a meal. A church serves bread and wine a la carte under a cross. A restaurant offers fare more expansive, more expensive, and less expressive. A church has a collection. A restaurant hands you a bill. Both places try to be atmospheric, fussing to find settings conducive to apostolates and appetites.

When congregations no longer show up en masse for Mass and customers eschew rather than chew, the doors must close. No one should puzzle over this. These are business decisions. There is, though, one big difference between church and diner. A failed restaurant reflects the misjudgments of the owner. The patrons are blameless. A closed church indicts the congregation.

If you're a Catholic, you believe in what the Church calls the True Presence: the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus Christ literally present on the altar during Mass. You also believe "the Church" is not to be found in cathedrals, no matter how grand, or in chapels, no matter how humble. The "Church" is the people themselves, comprising what Catholicism calls "the Mystical Body of Christ."

No matter what they may say, the disgruntled whose faith rests upon a particular parish building remaining open demonstrate they don't believe this stuff any more. Their religion has become a fairy tale made of bricks and mortar.

Consequently, how can anyone blame the Most Rev. Timothy McDonnell, bishop of the Springfield Diocese, for his decisions on church closings in Berkshire County? Attendance is down, and costs are up. Consolidation was his only responsible choice.

Bishop McDonnell had tough decisions to make. He performed due diligence, involved the affected parishes in the decision-making, and kept parishioners in the loop. What's the problem with letting go and moving on, two of the most cleansing spiritual exercises a person can perform?

Yet many ex-parishioners of closed churches in Pittsfield and especially Adams have decided to spit on their faith by holding on the past way too long and far too tightly. They clutch dead moments they have mistaken as healthy memories. Rather than create new and vibrant memories at a new parish, they have chosen to make love to the fossils they imagine residing in the cadavers of their now empty churches.

My mom was baptized in Mt. Carmel Church in the early 1920s. My grandparents provided the funds and sweat equity that helped build that church on Fenn Street. My parents were married there on June 6, 1944. I was baptized, received First Communion, and confirmed there. From K-8 I attended Mt. Carmel School. There are a million family memories centered on Mt. Carmel.

My parents felt badly when Mt. Carmel closed, but they're adults. They took the news like grownups. After giving the bishop the courtesy of consideration and hearing McDonnell's reasoning, mom and dad — 87 and 88 respectively — understood the action and accepted it.

Rather than stay trapped in the dead past, they joined Sacred Heart Church at Newell and Elm streets. They were personally welcomed by their new pastor, Fr. Jim Joyce, and by the congregation. A strengthened Sacred Heart Parish warmly embraced them. My mother and father proved that they "get it." They understand that God is not to be found in a building but within the human heart and soul. Invigorated and refreshed, they continue to create new memories.

Those who would stubbornly fight the closings by slandering Bishop McDonnell have chosen the way of enmity and bitterness. Electing to play the "Woe is me" game, they have lost sight of a fundamental aspect of their so-called belief — The Kingdom of God lies within. The pity party has clouded their judgments, and they have as a result failed the test of their ailing faith. They are the dead, envying the living. Their reluctance to accept a wise decision by their spiritual head is an affront to McDonnell and a denigration of Catholicism.

Those who won't let go of their incidental spiritual pasts have turned the communion host into stale bread and have made of the blood of Christ cheap wine. Theirs is a Eucharist of Wonder Bread and Thunderbird. They will choke on it.

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letter - A 'mea culpa' needed from Diocese
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield, MA)
Friday, August 29, 2008

"Mea culpa, mea culpa" is a chant recited by Catholics. It means "through my fault." Penitent worshippers confess a wrong, a sin. In recent weeks, the wrongdoers have been the leaders of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

It's bad enough that they decided to close viable churches through Western Massachusetts. To add insult to injury, they failed to properly inform the people they are supposed to serve. In West Springfield, parishioners of St. Ann Church were shocked when they picked up the Sunday Republican on August 10. A front page article announced the closing of their church. During the one Mass at 10 a.m., a formal letter was read, but St. Ann members were already understandably upset.

Throughout the diocese, similar stories are told of loyal Catholics, even presidents of parish councils, learning this news second hand or through the media. Bishop Timothy McDonnell could have sent Monsignor John J. Bonzagni, director of pastoral planning, or Mark E. Dupont, diocesan spokesperson, to area parishes in advance to deliver the message.

Another question concerns the renaming of churches. Who decided on the new names? No one consulted the devoted parishioners who faithfully attend services and give money week after week.

The late journalist Tim Russert moderated a discussion series at Boston College titled "The Church in the 21st Century." Increased participation by the laity and greater involvement of women were two of many recommendations. Unfortunately, the Springfield Diocese has not caught up with 21st century ideas. It's still in the Dark Ages, where church hierarchy dictate orders and expect meek compliance.

Bishop McDonnell and his emissaries claim that their actions were inevitable. In the future, they will have to recognize that their actions broke a sacred trust and caused emotional pain. Then, they too will pray, "Mea culpa."

West Springfield

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letter - Closings, claims are unconnected
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
August 26, 2008

In answer to the question posed at the conclusion of the Aug. 24 Berkshire Eagle editorial, as the diocese of Springfield announced and was widely reported in various news media in early July of this year, the cost to resolve outstanding claims filed by victims of misconduct will be paid by funds from our insurance carriers and those funds alone. There is no association between those settlements and the pastoral planning process which has been under way for a number of years now.

I would like to stress that, which we have stated consistently. Proceeds from any sales related to our ongoing pastoral planning process will remain in those same communities impacted by these changes for the benefit of the Catholic community there. Other than to pay off existing parish debts, no funds from any sales associated with these changes will benefit the central funds of the diocese.


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editorial - Answers before closings
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA)
August 24, 2008

The Springfield Diocese assumes its critics don't understand that for a variety of reasons, among them changing demographics and a shortage of priests, churches must be closed. Unhappy Catholics understand this all too well; their unhappiness stems from the diocese's refusal to consider their views, explore alternatives or explain their decisions when closings are made. The inability to make this distinction shows just how out of touch, willingly so from all indications, the diocese is with its parishioners here in the Berkshires. Four years ago, The Eagle expressed optimism that the diocese would fully engage the parishioners in determining the fate of the churches in their communities, as it promised. Unfortunately, what followed was little more than a public relations campaign. There is no evidence that the concerns expressed by parishioners at a handful of meetings were taken seriously or their suggestions explored. The diocese decided the fates of the churches and delivered the edicts describing those fates at Sunday worship services.

When a delegation from St. Teresa's Church in Pittsfield sought a hearing to discuss different options for church closings in the city it was told the appeal process had passed — even though the parishioners had not been informed of the existence of such a process. They deserved nothing less than a meeting with Bishop Timothy McDonnell, and their treatment puts the lie to the claim by the diocese that it has fully involved parishioners in these important decisions.

In North Berkshire County, parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi in North Adams and St. Stanislaus Kostka of Adams have decided to fight the closings of their churches as best they can. In the case of St. Stan's, the diocese did such a good job of keeping the church community involved in the decision-making process that even the Reverend Daniel J. Boyle, pastor of the three Adams churches, expressed shock that St. Stan's is to be closed. St. Stan's is at the heart of the town's vibrant Polish community, which the diocese may not have been aware of but undoubtedly will learn.

The parishioners in Northern Berkshire County need to see and hear from Bishop McDonnell himself, not from a public relations spokesman. He should come not to pay respects after the churches are closed but to explain the diocese's reasoning for the decisions it has made before the churches are closed. What he sees as buildings are institutions that carry the history of the Catholic communities that worship there — the births, the deaths, the First Communions, the Confirmations. Anyone who sees the spectacular, 103-year-old St. Stan's will begin to understand its importance to not just the Catholic community but to the town of Adams.

Why St. Stan's and not another Adams church? Why St. Francis and not another North Adams church? Did the diocese's recent settlement with its insurance companies that created an $8.5 million pool of funds for victims of clergy abuse play a role in the closing of churches? Parishioners deserve answers to these and other questions, and no churches should be closed until they are provided.

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editorial - Another Step Forward
The Catholic Observer (Springfield, MA)
July 11, 2008

The recent offer of mediated settlements to 61 individuals claiming sexual abuse in the Diocese of Springfield may bring some measure of healing to individuals who have been harmed by those who betrayed their positions of trust in the church.

We say "may" because experience has sadly taught us that money alone often is not enough to heal heavy wounds that some victim-survivors of sexual misconduct carry with them throughout their lives.

Contrary to the ill-informed opinion of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), we know firsthand that many survivors have benefited in the past from professionally-run mediation sessions.

Rather than testify about the harm they have endured in open court, they have welcomed the opportunity to tell their story in a non-confrontational format that is confidential and objective. And while no process can be perfect, outside mediation is probably the best method we have to assign a relative seriousness to a wide variety of harms which have occurred, sometimes many years ago.

Some survivors may believe that the compensation being offered by the present settlement process is inadequate, and want the opportunity to convince a jury that the diocese should give them far more than long-term therapy and between $5,000 and $200,000 to make up for the damage.

That is their legal right, and we trust that those who might go to court will be respected by those who might question their motives. As SNAP rightly said in a recent press release, "Flawed though it may be, our courts have often proven to be a good way to expose the truth, get justice and deter wrongdoing."

But SNAP is just wrong when it says that "everyone else involved – the police, prosecutors, parishioners and public – are denied the chance to learn exactly who's covering up horrific clergy sex crimes and just how widespread those cover ups are" without abuse trials in this diocese.

For several years, western Massachusetts has been blessed with competent law enforcement officials who have vigorously investigated acts of sexual abuse by clergy. They have also checked into unproven theories that the misconduct resulted from a conspiracy or a cover-up among church leaders. They allocated countless hours of police personnel time, convened a special grand jury, and examined 80,000 pages of subpoenaed church documents without finding any evidence to prove those theories.

Building on that massive effort, the diocese's insurers then launched their own effort. After nearly four years of legal wrangling, they too have concluded that it is now pointless to endlessly examine past responsibility for abuse.

It is time for all concerned to recognize last week's developments as a significant step forward in resolving the issue of compensation for those who have been truly harmed by agents of the church.

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article - Springfield Diocese settles with its insurance carriers, offers arbitration
The Catholic Observer (Springfield, MA)
July 11, 2008
By Terence Hegarty and Father Bill Pomerleau

SPRINGFIELD – The Diocese of Springfield announced at a July 2 press conference that it will receive a settlement of up to $8,497,000 from five insurance carriers for coverage of clergy sexual abuse claims.

The diocese and the carriers have agreed to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the diocese in 2005 seeking reimbursement for sexual abuse settlements. The case had been scheduled for a month-long trial this fall in Hampden Superior Court.

The agreement "which has been achieved with the insurance companies after four long years, allows now for some material recompense to survivors of clergy sexual abuse who have been patient and understanding throughout that time," Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell said in a prepared statement.

Negotiations that led to last week's announcement of a settlement had been ongoing in recent weeks.

Once the deal was ready to be announced, the bishop had already committed to being interviewed by Catholic Television Network in Watertown, Mass. He was represented at the press briefing by Patricia McNanamy, diocesan director of counseling services; John J. Egan, the diocese's principal attorney; and diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont.

In his statement, Bishop McDonnell again apologized "to (abuse) victims for what they have suffered. I have kept each one in my prayers daily and will continue to do so."

Under the agreement, $3.5 million from this settlement with insurance carriers will enable the diocese to recoup some of the $7.7 million it spent in August 2004 to settle claims brought by 46 individuals claiming abuse by priests and other diocesan personnel.

The companies wrote insurance policies for the diocese from 1969 until 1986, when insurance for sexual misconduct became unavailable. Since some of the alleged abuse occurred before 1969, the insurers have, in effect, agreed to cover most of the settlement costs for alleged abuse which occurred during the periods when they were insuring the diocese.

Up to an additional $5 million has been set aside by the insurers to settle an additional 61 claims not covered in the 2004 settlement. The diocese and its insurers are now offering "an independent, voluntary arbitration procedure to any sexual abuse claimant who has made a pending, credible claim" by June 2 of this year, according to diocesan officials.

As part of this agreement the settling insurance carriers were not named by the diocese. However a 2007 article in The Catholic Observer identified the insurance carriers being sued by the diocese as Travelers Insurance Company, Lloyds of London, Interstate Fire and Casualty, Centennial Insurance and North Star Re-Insurance.

During the lengthy pretrial procedures over the last three years, the insurers had at one stage suggested that claimants would be required to give depositions about their abuse so that the companies could determine if the church had negligently known beforehand that their employees posed a threat to minors.

The insurers also subpoenaed numerous diocesan officials, the state police and two district attorneys in an effort to find evidence to support their position that the diocese had acted recklessly, and was therefore uninsurable.

But the insurers have now agreed to a less intrusive, independent settlement process that will be conducted by Paul Finn and Brian Mone of Commonwealth Mediation Service in Brockton, Mass.

Commonwealth Mediation is experienced in sexual abuse cases, having mediated several abuse settlements, including the then record-setting 2003 settlement in the Archdiocese of Boston, and the 2004 settlement in Springfield.

The process will begin with a simple screening questionnaire which each possible claimant will be required to fill out. The statement will detail where, when and by whom the alleged abuse occurred. The questionnaire, which many claimants have already completed, is designed to eliminate claims which are inherently non-credible, Egan explained.

“The standard here is very low. It’s designed to eliminate, for instance, a case where someone claims a priest abused him, and the priest was working abroad as a missionary at the time.”

Earlier settlement arrangements in Springfield and Boston did not have a screening process. In an effort to reach global settlements, both dioceses presumed that all claims filed against them were minimally credible, and proceeded to determine compensation amounts based upon information presented during later mediation conferences.

Commonwealth Mediation will award claimants anywhere from a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $200,000 in settlement funds. Egan said the monetary settlement parameters were set after consultation with Commonwealth Mediation.

The diocese will waive all legal defenses including statute of limitations or charitable immunity, which limits the amount a claimant may receive from a non-profit entity, in settling with anyone participating in the mediation process.

Claimants, who have until July 31 to decide if they want to participate in the mediation program, will attend a hearing conducted by mediators. They will not be subject to questioning by attorneys for the insurers or the diocese.

The mediators will conduct the hearings between August 11 and October 10. Awards will be determined by October 20, and checks will be mailed to claimants by November 20.

McManamy said she was relieved that the victims have the opportunity to have their claims resolved, “without the necessity of the victims' and survivors' having to go through the pain of a trial.”

“I hope that the survivors of clergy abuse will avail themselves of this arbitration process,” McManamy said in prepared remarks. She said victims “very much want to resolve these painful chapters in their lives.”

McManamy told the press gathered, “Some victims have shared their feelings of hope that this will bring about the degree of closure that they want, saying that this shows that the diocese accepts responsibility for the pain that was caused.

“I hope that we will be able to help them work through this and continue to provide services.”

John Stobierski, a Greenfield attorney representing many of the 61 claimants, told WGGB-TV that news of the settlement between the diocese and the insurers was an encouraging development, but he wanted “to see the details to determine if this is an adequate settlement” for his clients.

Egan said that claimants still have the option of going to trial, noting that each case is different. In the event of a trial or trials, the diocese will retain all its legal rights, he noted.

Dupont said that the settlements do not mean that the diocese will no longer assist victims. “This doesn’t mean we will stop walking with these people who have suffered so much in their lives," he said. “As a church we’re committed, as pastors, as people of Christ, to walk with them and we will continue to do that.”

The settlement announced last week will not cover any sexual abuse claim for acts allegedly occurring after October 1986, when the diocese was either uninsured or self-insured.

Egan said that there have been only four such abuse allegations, only one of which has been submitted to the diocesan review board.

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article - Diocesan attorney answers questions about recent settlement
The Catholic Observer (Springfield, MA)
July 11, 2008

Q. Why did the Springfield Diocese sue its insurance companies?

A. In 2004, the diocese agreed to enter into a mediation to settle clergy sexual abuse claims pending at that time. The diocese was able to secure the commitment of all its then known insurance companies to participate in the mediation. However, some insurance carriers dropped out the week before the mediation was to start. Other insurance carriers came to the mediation, listened to the claimants' stories and the presentation of their attorney and expert witness, and then they dropped out.

At this point, Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell decided the diocese had an obligation to proceed to mediate with these claimants, even without the insurance companies, and then deal with the insurance carriers later.

In June of 2004, the diocese settled 46 claims by payment of $7,750,000 in cash and real estate and agreeing to future counseling reimbursements for these individuals.

The diocese funded this settlement from it's own insurance reserves and from its savings without any assistance from the insurance carriers.

The diocese next contacted all the insurance carriers and requested they enter into mediation with the diocese concerning the insurance carriers' obligations under the policies. The insurance carriers declined. Only then did Bishop McDonnell authorize litigation to resolve what the insurance carriers owed on the 2004 settlements and what their responsibility would be for future cases. That case was filed in June 14, 2005.

After the 2004 settlement was announced, new claimants came forward. The diocese was unable to proceed to resolve these claims until its dispute with the insurance carriers was resolved.

Q. How many claims were made, and how far back do they go?

A. There were over 130 individuals who asserted claims, including those previously settled and those still pending, and they went back as far as 1943.

Q. How many priests of the diocese were charged?

A. Claims were made against 68 individuals, of whom 56 were priests of the Diocese of Springfield. Since 1943, more than 1,500 priests were active in the Diocese of Springfield.

Q. How many of those priests are still in active ministry?

A. None.

Q. What was this lawsuit all about?

A. Many claims were asserted against the diocese or its supervisors saying that someone must have known about the acts of sexual abuse committed by priests, religious, or other employees of the diocese. Those claims alleged that supervisors of the diocese were negligent, because if they knew there was a risk of abuse, they should have taken more aggressive steps to prevent any future harm. The diocese always contended that was not the case.

From about 1968 to 1986 the diocese had insurance policies with several different companies that provided certain coverage for any negligent acts of its supervisors and/or employees. These insurance policies never covered the intentional acts of the individuals who inflicted the actual abuse. The insurance coverage for the diocese was implicated when negligent supervision claims were made against the supervisors.

Q. Why do you believe the insurance carriers initially refused to pay?

A. Some of the victims were abused over time periods covered by different insurance companies. Some of the abuse took place before the diocese first had insurance. The claims were 20-65 years old. The insurance carriers wanted a further investigation to determine the dates of abuse and which carriers were providing coverage at that time; and to investigate the claims that the supervisors in the diocese knew or should have known of the abuse. If there was evidence the diocese knew, it would provide the insurance carriers with a legal defense which would relieve the insurance companies of their obligation to cover the diocese for any negligent supervision claims.

Q. What happened in the lawsuit?

A. The insurance carriers investigated all the pertinent records of the diocese (80,000 pages) and took sworn testimony of multiple diocesan officials and witnesses outside the diocese. The diocese took sworn testimony from representatives of each insurance carrier. This "discovery" process took several years. At the same time, a Hampden County Grand Jury was reviewing the same records and taking testimony under oath from officials of the diocese.

On Sept. 27, 2004, the District Attorney announced that the grand jury had completed its investigation and found no evidence of knowledge of sexual abuse, no evidence of destroyed records, or a cover-up on the part of the diocese. The investigation of the insurance carriers continued on for the next three and a half years.

In early 2008, the insurance carriers agreed to a mediation process to seek to resolve the claims of the diocese. On Feb. 11 in Boston, the mediation process began with the insurance carriers. The carriers had about 30 representatives from all across the country. The diocese was represented by its attorneys and John Shuman, its secretary for temporalities, and certified public accountant William LaBroad, its chief financial officer. The face-to-face meetings consumed three days and were suspended by Paul Finn, Esq., president, Commonwealth Mediation. Attorney Finn thereafter conducted further discussions with the respective parties which took place during March and April and culminated in the settlement.

Q. What are the terms of the settlement?

A. Collectively, the carriers will reimburse the diocese $8,497,000.

Q. Does this reimburse the diocese in full?

A. No, the diocese has paid and will pay a total of about $12,750,000 in settlements.

Q. Whey did the diocese settle for less than it paid?

A. Of the total amounts paid and related expenses, approximately 25 percent involved cases for which there was no insurance policy covering the time of abuse. Further, one of our major carriers was insolvent. In the remaining 75 percent, the diocese, out of concern for the victims, agree to waive the charitable immunity cap of $20,000 and not assert any statute of limitation or other legal defenses. This was a pastoral decision made by the bishop, and the insurance carriers were not bound by it. Finally, by settling now, the diocese was able to spare the claimants from undergoing depositions conducted by the insurance company lawyers.

Q. Where will the settlement proceeds go?

A. Of the $8,497,000, approximately $5 million will be set aside in a settlement fund. Claimants will be offered an arbitration process, which will permit recovering between $5,000 and $200,000 as determined by Commonwealth Mediation. The diocese will not contest any of the claims that it invites into the arbitration process. No lawyer or representative from either the diocese or any insurance carrier will participate in, or be present at any arbitration hearing. Claimants who elect not to go into arbitration will be free to pursue their legal claims in a court of law, and the diocese will defend those claims with any lawful defense.

The balance of the proceeds will go back to the diocese to partially replenish those savings that were used to fund the 2004 settlements.

Q. Why do you think the insurance carriers settled now?

A. The case was set for trial in November. The pressure always mounts to resolve disputes as the trial date approaches. Further, after extensive discovery, I believe there was no evidence any supervisors of the diocese knew of this misconduct. In my judgment, the carriers came to the same conclusion as the grand jury: that this terrible abuse was done in secret, and that the victims were coerced by their abusers to keep the abuse secret for years.

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letter – Hard questions for church hierarchy
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA)
Tuesday Jul 8 , 2008

Thank you for the thoughtful editorial on financial settlements for survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Springfield ("Settlement, no answers," July 6). The crimes themselves and the loss of trust accompanying the scandal are matters of public as well as religious importance, so that careful reporting and editorial commentary are altogether appropriate.

Area Catholics interested in helping their church recover might consider making further inquiries. First, they might seek out survivors of abuse and make sure they have the personal support and legal and financial advice they will need in the upcoming negotiation of case settlements. Second, they might ask members of the committee appointed to oversee diocesan efforts to deal with the scandal whether they were consulted on the resolution of older cases, including legal and financial as well as pastoral responses to survivors. Could these lay leaders answer the questions your editorial poses regarding diocesan responsibility?

Third, they might seek out members of the diocesan finance committee and ask whether they have been consulted on negotiations with insurance companies and survivors, and whether their deliberations and recommendations on behalf of the faith community are confidential or public? Fourth, similar questions could be asked of the diocesan pastoral council, an advisory body composed of clergy, religious and lay representatives, also

mandated by current church policy. Were they consulted on these matters, along with lawyers and financial officers? If such a body does not yet exist in the diocese, how has the bishop consulted his priests, other pastoral ministers, sisters, lay ministers and ordinary parishioners regarding these important matters?

Unfortunately, the experience of the lay group Voice of the Faithful over the last six years suggests that even asking these questions will draw charges of disloyalty upon even the most loyal and involved parish Catholics. As a result they often have to rely on the press, and lawyers and other advocates for survivors, to ask the hard questions that should constitute the agenda of Catholic deliberations in Western Massachusetts and across the country.

The writer is a professor of history and Loyola professor of Roman Catholic Studies Emeritus at the College of the Holy Cross and recently completed service as a member of the Board of Trustees of Voice of the Faithful.

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editorial– Settlement, No Answers
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA)
Sunday Jul 6 , 2008

Victims of clergy abuse at the hands of the Springfield Diocese who have been waiting for the diocese to settle its dispute with its insurance companies now have an opportunity to collect compensation with the reaching of an $8.5 million agreement between the diocese and the insurers. If they are looking for answers or for closure, however, they may be disappointed.

The settlement will be used in part to pay back the diocese for the money it paid to settle 47 abuse cases, with the remaining $5 million to be used to establish a settlement fund for the 61 remaining victims. An arbitration panel will determine the awards, and while none of the 61 are required to participate, going it alone against the diocese and its insurers is not an attractive prospect.

The clergy abuse victims have been waiting for three years while the diocese fought the claims of the five insurers that they had no obligation to pay if diocesean officials were aware of sexual abuse by priests. While that was clearly the case in the Boston Archdiocese, where pedophiles were shipped from parish to parish for decades by an indifferent hierarchy, Springfield officials maintain they were unaware of any clergy abuse on their watch.

Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, who according to a statement could not attend last week's press conference announcing the settlement because of a "long-standing three o'clock commitment" elsewhere, was not available to answer questions about how these abuse incidents, most of which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, could have happened without authorities finding out. To know and fail to act is worse than not knowing, but not knowing is not something to be proud of, in particular if that ignorance was born of indifference.

What diocese officials did and didn't know over the decades will likely never be entirely clear in the wake of this settlement. Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, stated last week that settlement agreements like the one reached in Springfield are often "more about protecting secrets and bishops than about helping victims and families." Ideally, many victims and families will receive peace from this settlement, but in the absence of answers there will always be questions.

Last week, the Denver Archdiocese agreed to pay $5.5 million in clergy abuse suits as the Catholic Church continues to dig its way out of a numbing series of scandals. As in Springfield there were appropriate apologies, but as in Springfield there were no explanations, no accounting for these grievous failures to protect parishioners, most of whom were young when abused. Without those answers there is no finality, and if dioceses anywhere believe finality is reached when they or their insurers sign checks to victims, there is no assurance that these terrible acts will not be repeated.

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letter - Church coverup one of deadly sins
Springfield Republican (MA)
July, 2008

I write relative to a recent diocesan denounced demonstration on behalf of a victim of clerical abuse ("Man requests: Defrock priest," The Republican, June 25) Though in this instance, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has no direct connection with James Tully, a priest of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers - the diocese has a very direct connection to his victim.

By way of an out-of-court settlement, guilt has been acknowledged and now Tully's victim has come forward publicly asking that Tully be defrocked for unbelievable and insensitive misconduct. On the heels of Pope Benedict XVI's condemnation of pedophilia and sexual misconduct by any cleric, William Nash was hopeful that the bishop of his diocese from the days of his youth to the present would shepherd his concerns to those in the position to do the right thing.

I have been hopeful that diocesan authorities would have amended the cold and uncaring sentiment and words of its spokesperson. In that it has not, such an attitude must be its own. Nash and Survivors of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) clearly stated that his violator was not of this diocese.

Nonetheless, Nash's diocese (Springfield) is part of the universal Catholic church, and he and SNAP had every right to be on diocesan grounds seeking understanding, compassion and action. Not only did they not receive it, they were condemned and chastised.

In a recent, unbelievable pronouncement from someone within the Vatican - seven new "deadly" sins and new mortal sins have been announced. Among the new deadly sins is pedophilia (which is defined as a psychiatric illness.) A new mortal sin is perjury. Well, in my mind and heart, the coverup of pedophilia is the deadly sin - and, I fear many of the hierarchy have perjured themselves in this coverup.

Sadly, many lay people want all of this to just go away. The institution and hierarchy count on this tendency of human nature. But when you have met close to 50 victims of abuse, some of whom are waiting for a parent to die before they come forward, you just must continue to advocate.

The diocesan spokesperson makes it clear the institution just doesn't get it, and if they get it - they just really don't care.

East Longmeadow

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article - Alleged abuse victim calls for priest to be defrocked
By Stephanie Barry
The Republican (Springfied, MA)
June 25, 2008

SPRINGFIELD - Standing outside the Roman Catholic chancery yesterday, an alleged clergy abuse victim implored local church officials to support his bid to get a priest defrocked.

William J. Nash, 41, of Ashfield, said he was repeatedly assaulted by the Rev. James Tully, a member of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers, while Nash was a student at the order's seminary in Milwaukee, Wis.

Tully could not be reached.

As part of a thick packet of information he handed out to reporters, Nash attached a $75,000 out-of-court settlement he reached with the order in 2005, and correspondence between the order and lawyers for Nash.

Nash, a small business owner who helps broker the works of Mexican artisans, said he aspired to be a priest from an early age and attended the seminary after graduating from the University of Massachusetts in the 1980s.

He said the abuse began shortly after he enrolled.

Nash yesterday was surrounded by members of Survivors of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a vocal advocacy group. After recounting his alleged abuse, he dropped several letters in a nearby mailbox calling for Tully to be defrocked as cameras rolled and flashed.

He also marched up to the Elliot Street residence of The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, to hand-deliver an appeal for his support.

"He probably has a little better access than I do to the Vatican," Nash said, adding that he was inspired to act publicly by Pope Benedict XVI's unequivocal denouncement of pedophile priests.

A spokesman for the local diocese said McDonnell does not have the authority to help spearhead an initiative to defrock Tully. That would be solely up to the religious order to which Tully belongs, he said. Diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont issued the following statement in response to Nash's press conference.

"Certainly we would extend to Mr. Nash the services of our Counseling, Prevention and Victim Services office. But the disposition of Fr. Tully is a matter that must be resolved by the Xaverian order in communication with the Vatican," Dupont wrote. "By hosting this media event outside our diocesan offices SNAP misrepresents this situation and perhaps confuses the public into thinking that this priest is present in our diocese and under our authority which is most certainly not the case. We encourage SNAP to show better judgment and avoid such misleading events in the future."


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editorial– A Hearing for St. Teresa's
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA)
Saturday, June 21, 2008

The closing of six of Pittsfield's 10 Catholic churches has been accompanied by remarkably little drama, for which the Springfield Diocese should be grateful. The Boston Archdiocese wishes it had been so fortunate. Given the relative ease in which the process has gone forward, it shouldn't be too much to ask of the Springfield Diocese to give a full hearing to a committee from St. Teresa's Church that still hopes the church will remain open.

There are a variety of reasons why attendance at Pittsfield's Catholic churches has dropped dramatically, among them the decline of the city's population and the fewer number of Catholics who attend church regularly. While the diocese seems reconciled to this situation, Walter Doerle, one of seven members of the Parish Closing Committee, takes a more optimistic approach, pointing out in yesterday's Eagle that closing six churches leaves no room for future growth. Even with the status quo, having only four churches could lead to overcrowding and a lessening of the religious experience for parishioners.

The diocese opted for a four-church, five-priest set-up for the city, which is not far afield from the five-church, five-priest model the committee has discussed as a possible option. Petitioning the diocese to allow a deacon or lay person to celebrate Mass is another option, and while this may be unique or unprecedented, the Catholic Church in Pittsfield and in the nation finds itself at a crossroads where old methods aren't always working and new ones should be considered.

At the very least, Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell should meet with the members of the committee to discuss their ideas for keeping the church open. An exchange of letters isn't good enough when an issue of this magnitude is at stake. The time period for the appeals process has passed, but the committee members claim they were not aware of the process and what does it matter if the time period has come and gone? Five Pittsfield churches are passing into history this summer and parishioners want to save a sixth. They deserve a chance to be heard.

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article– Parish Won't Surrender
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA)
Friday, June 20 , 2008

PITTSFIELD — Although the decision to close six city churches in the next few weeks appears inexorable, a small group of parishioners at one of the churches facing deletion says it still is brainstorming ways to avoid that finale.

"I don't know if we can stop this," conceded Gerard Miller of Velma Avenue, a member of St. Teresa's Church. "It's a very uphill battle."

Miller is one of a seven-member Parish Closing Committee that has been lobbying the Diocese of Springfield to keep its 1,000-member church.

Earlier this year, the diocese announced the closing of six of the city's 10 churches by July 6. Besides St. Teresa's, they are All Souls' Mission, Holy Family, Mount Carmel, St. Francis' and St. Mary's.

All Souls' Mission shut its doors this past weekend, and the other five churches are scheduled to close in the next few weeks. St. Teresa's last Mass will be tomorrow.

The committee is pondering, for example, petitioning the diocese to allow a deacon or lay person to celebrate Mass at the church. The current pastor, the Rev. Mark Mengel, already has been reassigned to Holy Name Church in Springfield.

"It's something that, if the diocese was receptive, we would consider," said Walter Doerle of Gamwell Avenue, another committee member. Doerle emphasized that he was speaking for himself, and that the entire parish would have to agree to something like that.

The other option, said Miller, is to lobby for a five-church, five-priest model that was one of the options put forward by the diocese. The administration of the diocese eventually decided on a four-church, five-priest model.

Several committee members said they believe that the planned four-church model has the potential to generate overcrowding, particularly at St. Joseph's Church on North Street. The diocese has countered that the overcrowding issue can be addressed by adding more Masses.

Doerle added that his group also has been trying to point out to the diocese that four churches in Pittsfield will not allow for future growth.

"It seems counterproductive to close six churches and then a few years later have to build a new one if there is significant growth," he said.

"I'm hoping that when these closings happen, the diocese will see that they've gone too far," Miller said. "And they will think about reopening one of the closed churches. And the one they choose would be St. Teresa's."

But Miller said the principal frustration is that Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell has declined to meet with them. Although the diocese has answered all their letters, this extended postal dialogue has gone on so long that the committee is running out of time, he said.

"I'm disappointed by that," he said.

Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the diocese, said the bishop twice sent letters to the group in an attempt to address its concerns. Monsignor John J. Bonzagni, the director of pastoral planning, also sent the group a letter and offered to meet to discuss its concerns.

In addition, said Doerle, there was a 30-day period where the committee — or anyone — could have appealed the closings. But that expired March 8, 30 days after the Feb. 8 announcement.

"We were not made aware of (the appeals process), and I think the diocese had an obligation to give us that information," he said.

Another committee member, Ann Dunham of Spadina Parkway, said that, at the suggestion of the diocese, she has been visiting the city churches that will remain open. She said she was not yet comfortable at any of them.

"I think I'm going to be a pilgrim all summer long," she said, meaning she would be going from church to church. "Maybe a pilgrim indefinitely."

"You won't be the only one," said Miller. "Me, too, maybe."

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letter – Clergy Abuse Crimes Are Forever
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA)
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dan Valenti's mildly interesting account of present-day life in Rome (Saturday op-ed, April 26) descends rapidly into a skewed diatribe, suggesting that victims who have been sexually abused as adolescents by Catholic priests simply forgive and forget. He then mounts a twisted attack on those victims, supported by narrow-minded, superfluous arguments.

His assertion that these victims of sexual abuse just "get over it" ... is laden with ignorance and reflects the opinion of someone who is obviously way outside his area of expertise in making such a determination. Please leave the counseling to those who are truly insightful and professionally trained to do so.

To be sexually abused as an adolescent is not something that one can just get over by kissing the Pope's ring and reciting a prayer. If it were that uncomplicated, everyone would walk around with an eternally beatific grin on their face and life would be truly simple! Ignorance would equal bliss.

It is hardly affected "victimhood" when someone finally gathers the necessary courage to come forward, identify his abuser and demand that the malefactor who committed this crime be justly dealt with as any other criminal would be in our society. That is the way it is supposed to happen, in the real world.

"Forgiveness works," Valenti says. Not in all cases; that is theological dogmatism, not proven truth. Some things in life are unforgivable, and the sexual abuse of an adolescent by a priest falls into that category; no matter how much time has passed, no matter how much "divine love" and "God-centeredness" the writer tries try to sell in his columns. That crime is forever. It doesn't go away. The psychological manifestations only change over time into different levels of pain and suffering; a living purgatory of hell, Dan; not "holding on to hate" as Valenti says.

Let's not confuse sanctimonious theological ideology with the existing mandates of secular laws and criminal statutes. The separation of church and state has been constituted for good reasons. His theologically-based argument that victims simply forgive and forget being sexual abused by priests through "divine mercy" and the pronouncement that the "only condition" is that we "cooperate through acceptance" of this, desperately reinforces the necessity for the continued application of this established separation.

Great Barrington

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letter - Don't Blame Victims of Clergy Abuse
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA)
Monday, April 28, 2008

I was appalled this morning to read the letter from Eleanor Keegan ("Move beyond clergy abuse scandal," April 25). The Eagle has published many letters of mine that defend the Catholic Church and Catholic doctrine. Today I feel I must apologize for one incredibly insensitive idea expressed in Ms. Keegan's letter, that "the families of the victims are as much to blame."

I was left almost, but not quite, speechless by the lack of logic and the shameful disregard shown to children that have been abused by trusted adults and the families that have shared that pain. Cold logic tells us that the store owner is not responsible when the thief robs him or her. As a father, I fully expect that my children will have meaningful relationships with other adults. As a teacher, I know that I have had relationships with students that were important to them and helped them become the adults they are now. To suggest that these relationships are the result of "dysfunctional families who have neglected their children" is incredible.

The blame for clergy abuses lies only with the adults who took advantage of their positions of trust and authority. The suggestions in the letter are sickening.

I hope that the families of abuse victims will take my letter as a sign that not all practicing Catholics have circled the wagons on this issue. I'm sorry.

Great Barrington

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column - To Avoid Victimhood, Try Forgiveness
The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield MA)
Saturday, April 26, 2008

STOCKBRIDGE – From April 1-9, I was on assignment in Rome, covering Pope Benedict XVI as he convened the first World Apostolic Congress on Divine Mercy in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church.

I wrote mainly for the Web (www.mercycongress.org), which has deadlines measured in nanoseconds, even in the Eternal City. Of course, the Internet at the hotel ("Villa Murphy's Law") crashed four of my seven working days, which at least had one beneficent side effect. Scouting for Internet hotspots took me into many of Rome's lesser-known nooks and crannies. Fabulous.

Romans are wonderfully "un-American" — they are civilized, love beauty, eat fresh food, drive small cars, drink red wine, ride zippy Vespas, and aren't Michelin-tire-man fat. They are expressive but not loud, opinionated but not obtuse. Romans have an infectious joie de vivre that thumbs its nose at the clock. They also live in a place so rich in temporal history and architectural beauty that it possesses an ancient heavenliness that can wrench your back.

I joke that I hounded Pope Benedict so much that he left Rome and booked for the states just to get away from me. Little did he know, however, that I would follow him back to the Home of the Brave and cover his visit to Washington, D.C. and New York City.

At Nationals Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and points between, the Holy Father "went yard" with a tape-measure blast, touching all the bases on an apostolic home run that has them rifling the record books. Besides being the first pope to worship in a U.S. synagogue and pray at Ground Zero, Benedict was the first to confront the clergy sex abuse scandal face-to-face by meeting with victims.

Benedict took on the scandal long before he landed in Washington. Flying at 39,000 feet in Al Italia's Shepherd One, the pope called an impromptu press conference. "I am ashamed (of the scandal)," he told reporters in English, "and we will do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen again."

Benedict had acted unilaterally, proactively, and preemptively. He wasn't pressured into this by victims' rights advocates. Repeatedly, as in his address to U.S. bishops and in his homily at Nationals Stadium, the Holy Father raised the issue. Moreover, he boldly tossed the script aside by arranging through Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston to meet personally with five victims.

He went "off book," as my theater friends like to say. The Pope met with three men and two women from the Boston area. He prayed with them and listened to them. The meeting surprised everyone, startled many, and shocked a few. Press and people praised the pope's action, including one of the men with whom Benedict met. Olan Horne said of the meeting, "My hope is restored today."

Still, not everyone was satisfied. Some victims and advocates dismissed the meeting as window dressing. In doing so, they discounted a step they have been clamoring for since 2002 and denied what had occurred before their very eyes.

There's no question of the pain inflicted by child abuse. Nonetheless, eventually, sufferers have to let go of their "victimhood."

Those who recover from holocausts have one thing in common: They find through forgiveness a way to move forward with their lives. They choose to escape the prison of the past.

A great example is Immaculee Ilibagiza. She survived four months locked and hidden in a 3-foot by 4-foot bathroom with eight other women during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in which 1 million people were killed. When she was rescued, she found out that a friend had murdered her grandparents, parents, and siblings. She found her home destroyed. Yet she forgave, and today Immaculee is a strong woman radiating great serenity and joy.

Another example is Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, who, after recovering from an assassination attempt in May 1981, visited, forgave, and prayed with his would-be killer.

On the other hand, those who prefer the odd "security" of jail to jailbreak descend from victims to "victimhood." This poor decision to hold onto hate is usually the last free choice they make.

I'll say what many want to say but are afraid to counsel victims: Get over it. There is a way, and it doesn't lie in a lawsuit or a grab at money. Thirty and 40 years later, and some are still embittered and shriveled by the past. Obviously, what they've done as remedy hasn't worked.

Forgiveness works.

As he did at the World Mercy Congress, Pope Benedict presented the means to healing: divine mercy, which pours God's goodness, as love, on anyone who asks. The only condition is that we cooperate through acceptance. That's it. This is the Church's great "secret," one that, if realized, can be enjoyed by believer and non-believer, Catholic and Buddhist, saint and serial killer — literally anyone and everyone.

Victimhood uses God as a cover-up to dwell in and hide from the past. Victimhood has no place for God-centeredness. By living in a way that denies divine love, a person in victimhood surrenders true and pure humanity to its least common denominator. "Woe is me" then becomes the justifying cry of perpetrators and victims alike. Pope Benedict has offered a better, saner, and more merciful way.

Will they take it? The choice is theirs: to forgive and love, or remain frozen in the past.


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letter - Move Beyond Clergy Abuse Scandal
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield MA)
Friday, April 25 , 2008

 Thank you to The Berkshire Eagle for its insightful April 20 editorial on Pope Benedict's visit to the United States. With all due respect, there was a suggestion that the pope could have addressed the clergy abuse scandal in a more meaningful way, without any suggestion as to what might be more meaningful.

Perhaps now, it is of more value to focus on a time of healing, rather than dig up the scars of how bad this scandal was, which is of no value. There is only so much one man can do. The editorial utilized rather graphic terms (i.e. criminal) in describing the behavior of the clergy. However, the editorial failed to acknowledge that in most criminal activity there is the element of opportunity. The blame for this abuse falls as much on dysfunctional families who have neglected their children to the degree that they seek solace from someone they trust. Please, the families of the victims are as much to blame.

Let us bury the hatchet. A priest convicted of sexual abuse was brutally murdered a few years ago while in the Massachusetts penal system. How the authorities could place a priest convicted of sexual abuse next to a convict serving time for committing a the crime of murder related to homophobia defies reason. Enough has been said, including by the editors of The Eagle, about this situation. We don't need a kangaroo court, as might be implied by the editors.

It is time to heal, and move on. Instead, why don't we focus on Pope Benedict's time with the families of victims of Sept. 11, 2001? The symbolism of this gesture was a monumental victory for those who treasure freedom. Can we say that what Pope Benedict did at Ground Zero was not enough? The families of the victims, and survivors, of Sept. 11, 2001 face a daily suffering that many of us will never know. Nevertheless, Pope Benedict listened to these survivors. The photo in The Eagle on April 21 of the fire commissioner in New York bowing before the Pope and kissing his ring, was extremely touching.

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States demonstrated how the goodness of people in our beautiful country can overshadow the evil of sinister minds of individuals such as Osama bin Laden. We treasure life, and love. All Americans should be proud of the dignity bestowed on Pope Benedict XVI by our country on his first visit here. He is a man of peace, hope, love and forgiveness. In that spirit, it is really time to move on.


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article - Uncertain Church Awaits Pope in U.S.
New York Times
April 14, 2008

Less than two weeks ago, as final preparations were being made for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States, the bishop of Camden, N.J., announced plans to close or merge nearly half the parishes in his diocese. Meanwhile, Catholics in New Orleans, Boston, New York, Toledo, Ohio, and nearly three dozen other dioceses are mourning the loss of parishes and parochial schools they grew up in.

So when the pope arrives in the United States on Tuesday, he will find an American church in which many Catholics are eager not only for his spiritual guidance, but also for his acknowledgment that their church is going through a time of pain and uncertainty.

Hundreds of parishes are being closed and consolidated, and the reasons are usually intertwined with the other big challenges facing the church: a shortage of priests, fallout from the sexual abuse scandal, insufficient funds to maintain aging churches, demographic changes and sometimes not enough people attending Mass to justify keeping parishes open.

And yet for most observant Catholics, their primary experience of the church is their local parish.

“It’s frustrating because you start to see the bishop as the enemy, and it puts you where you’re conflicted,” said Leah Vassallo, a lawyer whose parish in Malaga, N.J., is among those to be closed. “Obviously you don’t want to give up your faith or go to a different religion, or not go to church at all. But it does disenfranchise you. We’re going to be a lot more hesitant before we give money to the church.”

A resistance movement to church closings that began in Boston has spread to other dioceses. On Sunday, Catholics in six dioceses — New York, Boston, Buffalo, Camden, New Orleans and Toledo — announced that they were forming a national group, the Coalition for Parishes, to try to prevent the closing or merging of viable churches.

In addition to the issues the closings and consolidations present, this will be the first visit by any pope since the sexual abuse scandal erupted in 2002, taking a spiritual, emotional and financial toll on Catholics across the country. The scandal revealed more than 5,000 victims, and left behind five bankrupt dioceses. It has cost the church more than $2 billion, so far, and it is not over. Last week the family of two young boys filed a civil lawsuit against a Massachusetts priest accusing him of molesting the boys as recently as 2005.

One of the scandal’s repercussions is that lay Catholics across the country are demanding more financial accountability from their bishops and more control over decisions, especially when it comes to closing parishes.

Many dioceses are also closing parochial elementary, junior and high schools that have provided a rigorous education for generations of Catholics and non-Catholics.

The cost of legal fees and settlements to abuse victims has put financial pressure on many dioceses. But in many cases, the far larger reason for the closings is demographic.

Urban enclaves of Italian, Irish, Polish and Eastern European Catholics who had their own ethnic parishes are dispersing to the suburbs and seeing their previous parishes shuttered — or having to learn to share their churches with immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa. In some parishes the new mix has been joyous, in others uneasy.

The pope is expected to praise the American church’s vibrancy during his visit, and there is much for the church to celebrate. Catholics are the biggest religious group in the United States, about 23 percent of the population, a proportion that has held steady. Many parishes are healthy, and some are growing, with the influx of immigrants, especially Hispanics.

A poll released on Sunday by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University showed a mixed performance review for the American bishops: 22 percent of Catholics are “very satisfied” with the bishops, 50 percent are “somewhat satisfied,” 21 percent are “somewhat dissatisfied,” and 6 percent are “very dissatisfied.” It is an improvement from 2002, the outbreak of the scandal.

But most priests, and even many bishops, will acknowledge the woes.

Of 18,634 parishes in 2007, 3,238 were without resident pastors. More than 800 parishes have been closed since 1995, most since 2000. (Some bishops are preparing their parishioners for more closings ahead.) The number of priests ordained in 2007 fell to 456, less than half the number of new priests in 1965. Nearly 3 in 10 Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more said they had been personally affected by the priest shortage, according to the Georgetown poll.

“There’s a crisis,” said William V. D’Antonio, a fellow of the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America. “We’re running out of priests. The average age of priests currently active is over 60. We have recruitment of new priests way below replacement level.”

Groups that advocate opening the priesthood to women and to married men are using the pope’s visit to promote their causes. But there is nothing to suggest that the Vatican is close to reversing itself. The solutions promoted by American bishops are to work harder at recruiting candidates for the priesthood, and to ordain permanent deacons — laymen who can preach and perform many ministerial duties.

Peter Borre, a parishioner who helped form the Council of Parishes in Boston, said that if he could address Pope Benedict XVI, he would say: “The shortage of priests, Your Holiness, is both a symptom and a problem itself. The deeper problem is not a responsibility of the flock, it’s a failure of bishops to inspire and draw more people into the priesthood.”

Some bishops, like Joseph Galante in Camden, have tried to involve the laity in the painful restructuring process. But since the sexual abuse scandal, they are finding many of their parishioners have become more confrontational.

The restiveness is not only among laity. In Belleville, Ill., last month, 45 priests took the step of publicly releasing a letter to the Vatican’s representative in Washington calling for their bishop to step down. They accused the bishop, Edward K. Braxton, of poor communication with priests and of misappropriating more than $17,000 and using it to buy liturgical garments and furniture. (The bishop has apologized, but said he would not resign.)

In Boston, Catholics have spent the last four years taking turns camping inside five churches that the archdiocese wants to close. They figure that if the church is occupied, the archdiocese will not be able to padlock it.

In Boston and Toledo, some Catholics are suing the church to prevent the closings.

The quandary for the church is that the agitation is coming from some of the most religiously committed Catholics, said Mr. D’Antonio, co-author of a recent book that surveyed the members of “Voice of the Faithful,” another church reform group.

“These are really the loyal Catholics speaking out for change,” Mr. D’Antonio said. “They are the ones who have been the Eucharistic ministers, they went to Catholic parochial schools and colleges, got a terrific education, and now they want to change the church.”

Ms. Vassallo, the lawyer in Camden who objects to the closing of her parish (the diocese there is reducing the number to 66 from 124), spends every Thursday from 11 p.m. to midnight in her church praying before the Blessed Sacrament. She is one in a chain of parishioners who keep up this Eucharistic Adoration for 48 uninterrupted hours every week.

As Catholics they are devoted to their church, but don’t necessarily agree with all of its decisions. As Americans, accustomed to life in a democracy, they think they have a right to say so.

Dan Thiel, a contractor and excavator in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, was in a ministerial training program for five years in the Toledo diocese, which assigned him to help gather information from parishes on which ones could be closed or clustered. In the end, he said, he was appalled because some very alive parishes were cut. His own was reduced to a chapel, without a resident priest.

“They’ve totally abandoned our community,” said Mr. Thiel, who is now president of United Parishes, a group that is fighting parish closings in Toledo. “They took the buildings, they took the money, and said, ‘You guys can go somewhere else.’ ”

“There are so many people that want to be active in this church, that want to know more about their faith, and now they’re so offended,” Mr. Thiel said. “I tell people all the time, ‘Don’t leave your church. It’s not the pope. It’s not the bishop. It’s your community.’ ”

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article - Opponents of Parish Closings See Opportunity
The Boston Globe
April 14, 2008

By John C. Drake

WELLESLEY - Kathleen Daly said she appreciates the historic nature of this week's visit to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI, but she is not looking forward to the occasion with the fondness she felt during a visit by Pope John Paul II.

Daly is among a group of area Catholics who will observe this visit in the context of a battle with local church leadership over the preservation of their parishes.

"I don't feel the warmth," Daly said yesterday while sitting in a pew at St. James the Great in Wellesley, after leaders of protests at that occupied parish and several others in the region called on the pope to take up their cause during his visit.

"What has happened in the last 3 1/2 years has certainly colored my view" of Catholic church leadership, Daly said.

Citing declining membership and finances, among other concerns, church leaders have sought to close many churches in recent years. Even without the support of the larger church, some parishes have refused to shut down.

Hoping to seize on attention to the pope's visit to Washington and New York this week, some members of area parishes that have been closed or marked for closure by the Archdiocese of Boston and the Springfield diocese addressed reporters yesterday at St. James the Great, which has fought a closure order since October 2004.

The event was attended by leaders of protests from two other parishes the Boston Archdiocese has attempted to close, St. Jeremiah's in Framingham and St. Francis X Cabrini in Scituate. Also present were a representative of Holy Trinity (German) Church in the South End, which is slated to close; and representatives of two closed parishes which are not being occupied, St. Michael the Archangel in Lynn, and St. Francis Chapel in Lee, which was part of the Springfield diocese.

The event coincided with a press conference in New York at which organizers announced the formation of a national support group of Catholics opposed to the church closings.

Organizers said the national Coalition of Parishes, formed by disaffected Catholics in the Boston area; New York; Camden, N.J.; and New Orleans, will offer support and advice on navigating legal challenges to parish closures. Boston-area opponents to parish closings, who refer to themselves as vigilers because some groups have occupied their parishes for more than three years, "have invaluable experience in these matters," said Suzanne Hurley, a leader of the vigil at St. James the Great.

Archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon called for unity among Catholics in anticipation of the pontiff's visit, tying the protesters' pleas to Pope Benedict's theme for his visit, hope.

"We are not surprised that many people have many hopes that they want to share with the Holy Father," Donilon said in an e-mail. "We see this as a time for Catholics in our Archdiocese and throughout the country to come together to listen to and to pray for and support the Holy Father."

At the press conference, some of the speakers appealed directly to Benedict. While the Vatican has indicated the pope will address the clergy sexual abuse crisis, protesters said they do not expect him to mention parish closings.

"It is our hope that he will address the failure of Catholic hierarchy with more clarity and compassion than has been shown so far," Hurley said. "It is time for him to put an end to the closing processes currently underway, reopen the churches in vigil, and enable laity to be a part of the solution."

John W. Salisbury, a member of Holy Trinity (German) Church, offered a two-part message to Benedict. He said he hopes the pontiff lives a long life and has a prosperous tenure.

"And the second message is, 'Help.' "

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article - Springfield area woman alleges priest abused her two young sons
The Springfield Republican ( Springfield, MA)
Wednesday April 09, 2008
By STEPHANIE BARRY (sbarry@repub.com)

SPRINGFIELD - The mother of two small boys from Greater Springfield has filed a lawsuit in New York against a suspended priest, alleging he sexually abused her two sons when they were just 2 and 5 years old. The complaint against the Rev. Aaron J. Cote was filed in New York Tuesday, and announced today by a clergy abuse watchdog group in front of diocesan offices here. A lawyer for the alleged victims, Michael G. Dowd, did not immediately return a call for comment this afternoon. The suit does not name the family, and The Republican does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Nor does the complaint say where in Greater Springfield the family lives. However, Barbara A. Blaine, president of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said she believed the boys are now 5 and 8, and live in a suburb of Springfield.

Cote is a Dominican order priest who graduated from Holyoke Catholic High School, according to the diocese, and served in parishes in South Hadley and Westfield on a visiting basis during the 1990s. He was suspended in 2003 after allegations of abuse arose in Providence, R.I. Diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont said Cote has family in the area, but was not on assignment in this diocese at the time of the alleged abuse. In addition to Cote, the lawsuit names the Dominican Fathers Province of St. Joseph, based in Manhattan, where Cote is reportedly living.

The Dominicans are a Catholic religious order founded by St. Dominic in the early 13th century in France. They differ from diocesan priests in that the diocese has no authority over so-called order priests, who typically serve in various dioceses under a type of courtesy agreement.

Themes of the lawsuit filed on behalf of the two small boys recently mirror those in a flood of lawsuits filed against Catholic clergy over the past decade or more. The complaint alleges the Dominicans identified early problems with Cote, including excessive drinking, and that allegations of inappropriate behavior with young boys endured as Cote was transferred from parishes in Ohio, Peru, Washington D.C., Springfield and beyond. Cote is accused in the complaint of luring boys to his room and into the shower and of plying victims with alcohol and pornography.

The document states Cote was "transferred" to Springfield in 1991. While Cote was here, the Rev. Hugh Crean from this diocese called the Dominicans, according to the lawsuit. "The Dominican official who called the Diocese of Springfield back stated that (he) 'had the sinking feeling as I was calling …that his call had to do with (Rev.) Cote. I was right,'" the suit states, quoting personnel records. "The note stated that the Dominican official 'didn't indicate to Father Crean ( Cote's) questionable history in recent years.'" Crean called Cote "a mysterious personality" and "invisible," according to the lawsuit. Dupont said he had no knowledge of that exchange and that no local parishioner has filed a complaint with the Springfield Diocese about Cote.

The family is believed to have gone to local police officials in 2006, according to Blaine. The Hampden Country District Attorney's office would not comment yesterday on whether there is an open investigation into the matter. A person who answered the phone at the Dominican order in New York yesterday declined comment, saying the order would issue a written statement later.

Blaine and other clergy abuse victims gathered outside the chancery on Elliot Street yesterday, to protest what they argue has been an inadequate response to allegations against Cote. "We're asking Bishop (Timothy) McDonnell to reach out to others who may have been hurt" by Cote, Blain said. "We are concerned Bishop McDonnell has not done the outreach he could or should."

The diocese ran a story in its newspaper, "The Observer," in 2005 when allegations about Cote arose in a Rhode Island parish. The pastor of a parish in Westfield where Cote served also posted a notice on the church bulletin, Dupont said. He added that the diocese is willing to offer counseling to the family, even though Cote is not a priest of this diocese.

At an unrelated press conference yesterday morning, McDonnell said he knows little about the family or their accusations. "They are talking about it but they are not sharing," McDonnell said of Blaine and the Survivor's Network. "That's what makes it difficult."

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letter - Parishioners' Decision, Not Diocese's
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield MA)
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Recently my old friend Dan Valenti, with whom I attended Mt. Carmel School, characterized the closure of six churches in Pittsfield as a "mercy killing" (op-ed, Feb. 18.) He was being generous. In truth, it was a "Saturday Night Massacre." Such a wholesale closure of churches is a disservice to the city's Catholics, especially its elderly parishioners.

Dumping six churches on the market is also detrimental to the city's redevelopment efforts, particularly in Morningside, where St. Mary's is a prominent institutional presence helping to stabilize the neighborhood. Closing both St. Mary's and St. Francis will leave the entire northeastern sector of the city without a Catholic church.

I have been surprised by the lack of controversy this overkill has engendered. Maybe people are resigned to it. We Catholics have been trained to pay, pray and obey. I was moved to write after reading the roundtable discussion in last Sunday's Eagle, which offered up mostly happy talk about this tragic event.

The closings are wholly inconsistent with the diocese's Mullin Report which only recommended closing St. Mary's and Holy Family. I know the diocese's interim report recommended the wholesale closings, but after reading it, and comparing it to the Mullin Report, I can only conclude that it was manufactured to get to a result.

For example, it is asserted that linked parishes simply will not work. The linking of Mt. Carmel and All Souls has been a reality since the All Souls mission church was founded. Also, the linking of St. Patrick's and St. Agnes is working very nicely. And it seems that the linking of Holy Family and St. Joseph's is also working. The names of the Pastoral Planning Committee are not even shown in the on-line version. Who were they?

Mt. Carmel is not a parish on its deathbed. In fact, if one reads the Mullin Report, it is readily seen that the combined parishes of All Souls and Mt. Carmel are thriving if aging. And that is exactly the point. At a time in their lives when they need the church more than ever, the elderly are being deprived of the comfort of their home parishes. Shouldn't the parishioners have made such a momentous decision? The facilities are in excellent shape and the mural of the risen Christ within the sanctuary of Mt. Carmel is a masterpiece that will be lost forever.

I know the bishop holds title to all church properties, but he did not build these parishes nor does he own them. They are owned by those who built, maintained, and sustained them over the years.

To them should be left the decision to close or not to close.


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letter - Diocese is flouting canon law
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield MA)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

With regard to the discussion on religion (March 16), the Rev. James Joyce said that when people ask him "Which church should I go to? ... the answer is: Any one you want. ..." It may interest your non-Catholic readers to know that his answer flouts canon law (the bylaws of the church).

Parishes are precious to church tradition and have an individual character, much like a public corporation. Church closings require thoughtful consultation with all members of the parish because it is they (not the bishop) who own parish property.

The suppressed parish is supposed to then, willingly, transfer its assets to the parish it is joining. Instead of honoring this process by entrusting real power to parish pastoral and finance councils, our clergy prefers a different model.

Instead of power being exercised from the ground up, and oversight from on top, we get orders handed down from Springfield, and a bland assurance that "We have a very good situation. ..." Once again, as in previous church closings, our officeholders show their willingness to skirt canon law in order to centralize power.

I am not saying that the final result (fewer churches) would be different if the laity were to share power in the driver's seat. However, it would be a much more pleasant and attractive ride.


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article - A discussion of religion
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield MA)
Sunday, March 9, 2008

PITTSFIELD — On Feb. 9, at Saturday Masses throughout the city, the word began to leak out: Faced with declining enrollment, six of Pittsfield's 10 Catholic churches would close no later than July 1.

To many local Catholics, the closings were not a great surprise. According to Monsignor John Bonzagni, the head of pastoral planning for the Diocese of Springfield — which governs Catholic churches in the Berkshires — the church has been meeting with parishioners about the issue for several months.

Still, closing six of the city's 10 churches in one step was disconcerting to many residents of a city where Catholicism is entrenched.

Even though membership at Catholic churches worldwide is up about 1 percent in the past year, attendance was down 26 percent in Pittsfield between 1996 and 2006. An aging population and shifting demographics have contributed to the decline, according to local clergy.

Recently, in an effort to generate dialogue among Catholic clergy members and laity, The Eagle set up a roundtable discussion. Present were five members of the local clergy and six parishioners. Reporter Derek Gentile moderated the discussion.

Derek Gentile: I think the way to start is by asking the nonclergy folks in the room their initial reaction to the announcement of the church closings. We'll go around the room. Connie?

Camellia "Connie" Duda: Shock. Sadness. We've been hearing rumors for years. We didn't want to believe them.

Lisa Stankiewicz: I think sadness for the ones whose churches were closing.

Raymond Costello: We recognized it could happen. I have two emotions: sadness for those people whose churches are closing, but an opportunity for improvement.

Robert Driscoll: Yeah, sadness for the people losing their parishes.

Peter Lafayette: This was not a major surprise. It was not a shock. I think in the long run, we have an opportunity to end up with healthier, stronger parishes. I know some people found it depressing, and that's understandable. There were people who were angry, and that's not unexpected, either.

Jeff Cantarella: My heart goes out to all the parishes that will be closing. A lot of us looked at this as a death in the Pittsfield Catholic community.

Derek Gentile: Obviously, the clergy had advance knowledge. But there must have been a point when you all heard the news for the first time, too. What were your feelings?

Rev. James Joyce: I was shocked. I thought it might have been five or four (churches). I'm a Pittsfield native, and this was half the churches in the city. In the end, I did think it was the right thing to do.

Rev. Christopher Malatesta: Six churches was a lot.

Monsignor Michael Shershanovich: It would have been much more hurtful to single out one parish in July of this year, and close it with all the attention and hoopla, and then come back and do the same thing again and again.

Rev. Peter Gregory: After (Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell) met with us, there was a sense of relief. People were waiting to find out. I think we all felt this was the right thing to do.

Derek Gentile: One of the things I thought was interesting was the decision to include the parishioners in this process. That seemed very proactive. Was that a good thing?

Lisa Stankiewicz: Yes. The process helped. You felt your voice was heard. It didn't feel as though this was all being forced upon us.

Connie Duda: I was impressed with the effort the diocese made to be inclusive. I think that helped a lot.

Monsignor Michael Shershanovich: We went through this in 2004, with the closing of Notre Dame. (Closing a church) is a very, very hurtful process. I think (Bishop McDonnell) put it best: Every church is a memory box. A church is more than just a community. A lot of our folks are losing something very meaningful to them. Parishioners are very territorial about their pastors. "This is my priest." It was important to include them.

Rev. Christopher Malatesta: There are a great number of parishes closing (across the country). These are not the first parishes that have merged. It happened in Dalton, and I believe we are stronger because of it.

Derek Gentile: Monsignor John, as director of pastoral planning, you were directly involved (in the closings). In the end, do you think you did enough?

Monsignor John Bonzagni: You can always talk more. And there's always somebody else who would like to know more. I got kind of a nasty letter the other day from someone who felt blindsided by this. And I had to start at the beginning with him. On the other hand, you've got to pull the trigger. The quickness with which this happened was actually a response to what people told us. The uncertainty for a lot of people was the worst part.

Monsignor Michael Shershanovich: We thought this was going to happen in 2000. We were talking about it in 1997, 1998, 1999.

Rev. James Joyce: It started about 12 years ago, really, in some of our long-range planning sessions.

Derek Gentile: I've heard that the 10 current Pittsfield churches function almost as independent city-states. Is that fair to say? And will that hurt the church?

Rev. James Joyce: I disagree with that.

Monsignor Michael Shershanovich: I disagree very emphatically with that.

Rev. Peter Gregory: We're one church. We work for the greater glory of God. We have never been independent. There has always been a sense of deep congeniality. That's how we operate.

Monsignor Michael Shershanovich: When I first came to St. Joseph's, St. Mary's, Holy Family, Notre Dame and Mount Carmel were doing combined CCD classes because our (membership) numbers were down a bit. From sharing pulpits to covering for each other when there is an illness, we've always worked together.

Monsignor John Bonzagni: We meet on a regular basis. And I have to say, when you talk about churches from the Valley ( Springfield area), that's not necessarily the case over there. It's like night and day.

Rev. Christopher Malatesta: Many of my peers tell me they are envious of us here in the Pittsfield area, how much we communicate, how well we work together.

Monsignor John Bonzagni: I move around the diocese a lot, and I can tell you, we have a very good situation. I don't believe this would have been as smooth as it's been without the work of the guys in this room and their brothers. The communication has always been very good (among Pittsfield churches).

Derek Gentile: But what's next? Can Pittsfield go forward?

Monsignor John Bonzagni: Pittsfield is a unique situation. You will not see six churches closing anywhere else in the diocese. I know it sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky to a journalist, but we're very well-positioned to handle this. It's a very special community.

Derek Gentile: Why is it so special?

Monsignor John Bonzagni: We have a very stable Catholic community, stable leadership. You don't get the kind of long-range thinking you see here in other communities.

Rev. Peter Gregory: (These closings) might not be a negative. It might be a positive.

Rev. Christopher Malatesta: There is something very energetic about full churches.

Raymond Costello: We've seen it in Pittsfield before, with General Electric leaving, the potential merger of ( Pittsfield and Taconic) high schools. People are getting used to change. It won't change the social structure, as far as I can see.

Derek Gentile: Do you feel that people from the parishes that have closed will be able to fit in with parishioners from the churches that haven't closed?

Rev. James Joyce: One of the questions I'm getting now is: Which church should I go to? And the answer is: Any one you want. We're seeing people visiting (the churches slated to stay open) now to help them make their decision.

Connie Duda: For people whose churches are closing, we're not going to forget. We're going to move on, and we may be stronger. But I'm kind of still getting there.

-- the end --


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letter - Celebrate Work of City Catholics
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield MA)
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When I read the letter in The Eagle titled "Photo brings back bad memories" (Feb. 17 by Clark Nicholls), my heart went out to Mr. Nicholls and his friends for the pain they have experienced, to the pastors of the Catholic churches of Pittsfield and Dalton who have worked so diligently to serve the Berkshire community and to all of the Catholics of Berkshire County.

Whether based on race, ethnicity, age, gender or religion, stereotypes are dangerous. As the Catholic Church of Pittsfield works through all of the issues associated with its reconfiguration, I hope the community celebrates the unique contributions being made each day by individual Catholic clergy, religious and laity in Pittsfield.

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letter- Catholic Church is Strong, Viable
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield MA)
Sunday, February 17, 2008

Once again The Eagle jumped at the chance to profess all that is wrong with the Catholic faith. The Feb. 12 editorial ("A loss for city Catholics") states that the recent church closings are due to priestly celibacy and the pro-life and pro-family Catholic values. It even uses this as an opportunity to reopen the wounds of the sexual-abuse scandal.

This sort of selective reporting shows that the far left sentiment held by the editorial staff is not much different from that of the Know Nothing movement of early America. The Eagle would have us believe that, for Catholicism to remain a viable religion, we must abandon our faith.

We live in a very secularist county. It is more likely that parishioners are moving to more traditional Catholic parishes such as those of the Saint Pius Society than leaving because they just can't find a liberal parish around here.

The Springfield Diocese is experiencing a decline because of the current trend in our population. Churches are closing in our area, but Catholicism is still the largest religion in the world. Contrary to what is written in The Eagle, there is nothing wrong with Catholicism that will be remedied by becoming agnostic.

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editorial - A Loss for City Catholics
The Berkshire Eagle ( Pittsfield MA)
Tuesday, February 12

Pittsfield's Catholics knew that church closings were coming, but the decision of the Springfield Diocese to close six of the city's 10 churches is a harsh blow. For many residents, those churches represent several generations of baptisms and First Communions, weddings and funerals. The closings are a loss for the entire community as well, because of the good work the churches do in helping the poor and disadvantaged in the city.

The University of Massachusetts study known as the Mullin Report recommended the closing of two churches, and the decision to shut down six churches by July 1 suggests the depths of the financial problems facing the diocese. The diocese has struggled with a dramatic 26 percent attendance drop between 1996 and 2006, and church leaders everywhere face a shortage of priests.

There are any number of reasons why the Catholic Church is confronting problems, some of which are unique to Massachusetts. The Springfield Diocese did not face clergy scandals of the magnitude of Boston, but the decision of church officials to protect pedophile priests by shuttling them among parishes infuriated Catholics everywhere. The church in Massachusetts is heavily involved in politics, and its opposition to gay marriage and stem cell research alienated many parishioners. Given that the state cannot force the Catholic Church to marry homosexuals, it came across as mean-spirited in needlessly, and stridently, involving itself in that debate. These issues arose as cities like Pittsfield were losing residents, Catholics among them.

The church hierarchy's antipathy toward gays and the prohibition against married priests has contributed to a crippling shortage of priests that is a factor in church closings. The church has a right to its policies, but it also has to live with their ramifications — as do their parishioners.

Ideally, members of the six churches that will be closed will join one of the four remaining: Sacred Heart, St. Joseph's, St. Charles' and St. Mark's. Increased attendance and a firmer financial footing will make those churches stronger and may spare them and the Catholic community future traumas. Vincent Marinaro, executive director of the Catholic Youth Center, told The Eagle the city's churches have operated like independent city-states. The remaining four must now come together.

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letter - Catholic laity welcomes debate
TheTranscript.com [North Adams MA]
Monday, December 10, 2007

To the editor:

In a letter to the editor of Dec. 6, Msgr. (John) Bonzagni complains about an editorial which praised efforts to save St. Francis of Assisi church, while casting doubt on the framework of "listening sessions" set up to hear from Catholic laity.

Bonzagni defends the integrity of the Mullin Report, along with the sessions, and adopts a protective stance toward the laity, whose feelings toward their places of worship, he suggests, are too tender to withstand conflicting opinions in a public forum.

Despite his deeply felt concerns for propriety, I can assure the monsignor that the laity welcomes debate. The Springfield diocese faces problems, but we need to learn from conflict, not shy away from it. Many of today's Catholics are sick at heart about the failures of church governance and seek new ways to be loyal. More important, many refuse to be enablers of a system that does not work.

Bonzagni's vocabulary of "sustainability and staffing," "infrastructure" and "blueprints" only drives home the point that the corporate model and command hierarchy chosen by chancery officials is inadequate and should be replaced as soon as possible with more participatory forms.

Today's Catholics are better off and better educated than ever before. They realize that they're equal to the clergy under church law and that they've a right as well as a responsibility to share decision-making. But more than this, since many are successful professionals, they know what equality and collaboration look like. To many (and some parishioners of St. Francis are probably among them) the listening sessions and the Mullin Report fall short.

For example, the report is said to represent the viewpoint of outsiders who applied their own indicators to raw data. On the contrary, the indicators were chosen in "consultation" with chancery officials, and all of the data, such as totals for collections, baptisms, funerals and the like, came from chancery files. The only exceptions are population projections, which are freely available from public agencies.

The crucial information of what relative weight was given the various indicators, and by whom, which led to the recommendations about parish closings, is missing from the report. The report is said by Bonzagni to be a starting point for broad discussion during the listening sessions, but this assertion is compromised by the guidelines issued by his office.

Members of parish councils — the heart and soul of the parishes, who know it best — are specifically excluded from the listening sessions, except for one representative. All who attend must be approved by the pastor, and must arrive without agendas and already "convinced" (though it is not explained what they are expected to be convinced of). All are expected to have studied the report thoroughly before the discussion.

To the best of my knowledge, there is a solitary session planned for the laity of each parish. A one-day caucus with a handpicked few, even if they can recite the Mullin Report chapter and verse, would seem to be a pathetic substitute for real power sharing and decision-making, which is what the situation demands. With guidelines like these, it's not surprising that chancery officials are likely to hear what they want to hear from the laity. But will that really lead them where the diocese needs to go?

Those who wish to read more about the Mullin Report and see the guidelines for the listening sessions and other documents may go to www.westernmasscatholics.org, where they are posted.

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editorial - A Spoonful of Sugar
TheTranscript.com [North Adams MA]
Saturday, December 8, 2007

We think the Catholic Diocese of Springfield doth protest too much. In an emotional, wide-ranging letter Thursday, the Rev. Msgr. John J. Bonzagni chastised a recent Transcript editorial for being sarcastic, cynical and off the mark concerning the diocese's plan to deal with the inevitable consolidation of parishes and closing of churches.

Msgr. Bonzagni, a good-hearted man who is director of pastoral planning for the diocese, also complained that he and another church representative had spent 90 minutes speaking with the Transcript editor and a reporter, and somehow we still didn't understand the process.

Maybe we didn't understand the process the way the diocese would like to spin it. But we understand full well what will happen in the coming years, if not months. Parishes will consolidate and churches will close. And, however many spoonfuls of sugar the diocese wants to dish out to make parishioners throughout this region swallow that medicine — be they "listening sessions" with the powers that be or fatherly pats on the back, the hammer will fall.

The simple point of the editorial was to rally the Catholic faithful who want to save their parishes and their churches to their own cause. The handwriting is on the wall, and they have little time to act. No more, perhaps, is that more relevant than in the case of St. Francis of Assisi in North Adams, which is struggling with limited parking and the need for major renovations and whose suggested fate has already been mapped out — by its own priest, among others in the diocese's hierarchy.

The Rev. Bonzagni himself has stated the need for consolidation and has acknowledged churches will close. We believe Catholic parishioners — all of them who care and are knowledgeable about the issues — should have more of a voice in these important matters than 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon, in sessions attended by a selected few.

The diocese may own the church buildings, but the parishioners own their parishes. If they want to preserve them, they will have to make their case and fight for them. That's not sarcastic or cynical or misinformed. That's reality.

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letter - Transcript editorial unfair to Diocese of Springfield Letters
TheTranscript.com [North Adams MA]
Thursday, December 6, 2007

To the editor:

It was with deep concern that I read The Transcript editorial published Nov. 19 ("Praying for a miracle"). Though the writer may have thought they were simply predicting the inevitable, the editorial's sarcastic and cynical tone, along with a certain disregard of the facts, should be of concern to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This issue is so fraught with emotion that it is essential that facts not be distorted and emotion-laden words not be used.

Our diocese has been in the process of pastoral planning for three years now, a fact well known by the Transcript staff, some of whom I and our diocesan communications director personally visited a year ago. Believing that this paper was as interested in "getting the story right" as we were, we spent more than an hour and a half talking and answering every question the editor and reporter asked.

Yet based on what I recently read, this effort may have been in vain.

The purpose of the pastoral planning process is to recommend to the bishop how his goal of "fair and equitable access to the Eucharist to every Roman Catholic in the diocese" can be achieved if the diocese was to only have 65 active priests. Presently we have 93 active priests and 117 parishes and missions. Hopefully, we will never see a time when all the diocese has are 65 priests, but it would be imprudent not to plan for the worst-case scenario.

Pastoral planning is not about closing churches; it is about having a conversation with the faithful throughout the diocese about church, ministry and service. We seek to devise a blueprint that will best utilize all of our assets — priests, lay ministers, deacons, the laity and buildings — for the spread of the Gospel.

No one working on pastoral planning wants to close a single church. Churches are our memory boxes. We celebrate the great events of our lives — happy and sad — in them. For that reason alone, we do not take the recommendation to alter an established community lightly. The issues for us as a planning committee are location and sustainability. We are asking what configuration in a given region is the most sustainable, given the number of faithful in that region.

One of the first things the diocese did when beginning this process was to engage the services of the highly regarded Center for Economic Development at the University of Massachusetts to study all of our parishes and missions from an outsider's viewpoint. The center utilized six indicators that could be measured and applied equally to all of our existing parishes and missions. As it says in its introduction, the report was meant to be utilized by the diocese as the beginning of the conversation, not as a "plan" to be implemented. The study recognized, as does the diocese, that there is much more to a parish than these six indicators would suggest. The study did do its job in that it sparked discussion. It was and remains, simply a starting point — a fact which we have reiterated at every opportunity but which the editorial writer apparently disregarded as it would have undermined the logic of their opinion.

I have found as I go throughout the diocese working with parishes, that parishioners love their church. I have also found that our people understand that the present infrastructure of the diocese is unsustainable. They just want a sense of fairness, some transparency and some kind of input into a decision that has an impact on their lives of faith. The planning process that we have designed certainly more than achieves those goals.

I can say with all candor that no decisions have been made by the committee about any parish in the diocese except two — St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield and Holy Name Church in Chicopee (the Mother Church of the diocese). Contrary to the editorial writer's speculation, there has been no decision made regarding the plan for North Adams.

But we can say with certainty that a decision will have to be made. The current structure is indeed not sustainable, neither in Berkshire County nor any location in Western Massachusetts. North Adams will be treated exactly the same way in which the other parts of the diocese will be treated. If the final decision happens to be someone's worst fear, it is not because they have not been heard, or their feelings not considered. It will be because it is the best decision we can arrive at when considering the sustainability and staffing of all the parishes and missions in the diocese in a fair and equitable manner.

There is nothing magical about pastoral planning. That people get upset when they consider the possibility that their church building might be closed to worship is, paradoxically, a good thing. It means that our people care. You cannot get upset about something you do not care about. That our people care is a great grace. What we all must realize, though, is that church buildings, beautiful and magnificent though they may be, are places where we worship, not what we worship.

I would hope the editorial writers would be far less cynical and far more understanding if they should wade into this very emotional issue again.

The Rev. Msgr. John J. Bonzagni
Dec. 5

The writer is director of pastoral planning for the Diocese of Springfield.

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editorial - Praying For a Miracle
TheTranscript.com [North Adams MA]
Monday, November 19, 2007

The Diocese of Springfield may be calling them "listening sessions," but there is little chance the voices of many parishioners will be heard during the upcoming series of meetings across Massachusetts to discuss the closing of dozens of Catholic churches.

In North Adams, those who want to keep St. Francis of Assisi a separate parish and to save the historic building are working hard to raise collections and possibly to launch a capital campaign. But they may well be spitting into a hurricane unless efforts are redoubled and they can get that campaign off the ground — soon.

While the diocese is giving lip service to keeping an open mind, a merger of the St. Anthony of Padua parish and the St. Francis parish is all but a done deal, as reported in this newspaper late last year, again in February and once again last week. The Mullin Report appears to be the diocese's bible when it comes to church closings, and St. Francis is a marked passage.

We applaud the St. Francis parishioners and supporters who have managed to raise enough money to keep the church open this winter, but far more money will be needed for necessary repairs — at least $750,000, according to the latest engineering report.

We understand the parishioners' frustration. St. Francis has the larger congregation, and the church has more historical significance than St. Anthony. Alas, it also has restricted parking, limited access to the handicapped and no large parish hall — all part of the reasoning used by the diocese to select St. Anthony as the future home of the combined parishes.

The Notre Dame and Our Lady of Incarnation parishes have already folded, and the buildings have been sold to developers or private owners. Saving St. Francis may take a miracle. But it's a miracle worth praying for — and worth working for.

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