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Catholic Dioceses Offer Third-Party Option For Reporting Misconduct By A Bishop

The Springfield Catholic Diocese and six others in New England are offering a confidential reporting system, operated by a third party, for filing sexual abuse and other misconduct allegations against bishops.

The Archdiocese of Boston is paying for the online reporting system, run by Navex Global, an ethics compliance company.

The dioceses in Springfield, Boston, Worcester and Fall River, Massachusetts—along with Burlington, Vermont, Portland, Maine, and Manchester, New Hampshire—launched the reporting system after Pope Francis issued an edict in May, requiring new measures to address clergy sexual abuse and any cover-ups of abuse. The edict also mandated new procedures for investigating crimes by bishops.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plans to set up a national, confidential reporting system for allegations against bishops, but it's not expected to start for several months. The dioceses in New England wanted to get started sooner.

Mark Dupont, spokesperson for the Springfield Diocese, said the new reporting system will make it easier for people to file a complaint against a bishop.

“They don't have to go to local diocese where the bishop might be in charge," he said. "They can go to this third-party system and file their complaint.”

After a complaint is filed, it'll be handled by the Archdiocese of Boston unless it deals with the archbishop of Boston. In that case,  it would be handled by the bishop in Worcester.

The online reporting system allows someone to report where the abuse occurred, the name of the bishop who allegedly engaged in the behavior, the time of the incident, how long the problem has been going on, the names of anyone who tried to conceal the problem, and the steps taken to conceal it.

If there are criminal allegations, Dupont said, they'll be forwarded to local law enforcement and to the Papal Nuncio in Washington DC.

The new system would only handle allegations against living bishops. Olan Horne, of Chester, Mass., a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest and an advocate, said the system should also include allegations against deceased bishops.

“It's a very narrow field and it doesn't resolve any of the issues of the past that we're seeing here, especially with the Weldon case in Springfield,” Horne said.

Horne is referring to allegations against the late Springfield Bishop Christopher J. Weldon.

The diocese said it has hired a retired judge to review those allegations. It also filed a report with the district attorney's office.

Horne said he believes the new reporting system can't really be independent of the dioceses, if they are paying for it.

“What I don't understand is, why we are developing a third justice system that they pay for?" Horne said. "It can never be 100% unbiased.”

Horne said people should report complaints to the secular criminal justice system—the police and district attorneys. 

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni started a hotline in February for reporting sexual abuse.

"I don't know why we are reinventing the wheel," Horne said. "But it seems to be giving an edge to the Catholic Church and it certainly doesn't seem to be giving the edge to the survivor community."

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