| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Those who have been the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a member of the clergy in Hampden County, now have a new resource to seek help: a toll-free telephone in the Hampden County District Attorney’s office that directly connects callers with members of law enforcement trained to handle such calls.
District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced the new hotline – 413-800-2958 – at a press event on Feb. 26. Although Gulluni could not say this was the first such hotline in Massachusetts, he did say he knew of no other such service. The hotline would address such matters in Hampden County.
Gulluni also called for a change in the statue of limitations of such cases. He said, “The abuse of a child is second to none in severity.” Right now, there is a 20-year statue of limitations.
He said, “In light of recent reports and statements by the Springfield Diocese, along with other issues of inconsistency in respects to the reporting of clergy sexual abuse, I have set up a Clergy Sexual Abuse Hotline. I am asking for anyone who is a victim of clergy sexual abuse to please contact law enforcement directly, even if it is an old allegation that you think has gone unaddressed, please report it to law enforcement directly.”
The Diocese of Springfield issued a statement through its spokesperson Mark Dupont about the creation of the toll-free line. “Regarding today’s planned announcement by the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office – We think setting up an 800 number it is a very good idea since we have successfully employed one since 1993 and have found it very helpful. However we would urge the DA to expand it and make it available to all victims of sexual abuse not simply to one class of victims. Once established we will add this number to our diocesan website listing. The diocese is in current dialogue with all the offices of the Western Massachusetts district attorneys’ offices to update and improve our reporting system to them, which has been in place.”
The district attorney said the creation of the new telephone line was at least in part a reaction to discrepancies in the number of reports of abuse this last year with the number of cases forwarded to the his office.
He explained, “Part of the genesis in creating the hotline is that it might encourage folks to come forward who have been abused.”
He said he would like to work with the Diocese on this issue and noted the Diocese has been neither “stonewalling” nor “cooperating” during conversations between the two offices.
According to a report issued by Diocese of Springfield there were 15 cases in 2018. Gulluni noted that after reviewing his office’s files those cases had not been forwarded to his office. Gulluni added his office has heard from victims and their families wondering if the District Attorney’s Office had received the reports.
He said he was “disheartened” with the interaction between the Diocese and his office about these cases, although he added, “It is consistent with how the Diocese has dealt with this issue.”
According to a two page report issued by the Diocese, since 1992, the Diocese of Springfield has paid out 147 abuse claims totaling $147,948,001, $8.5 million of which came from insurance carriers with the remainder coming from diocesan self-insurance reserves.”
The diocesan report explained its procedure once a report of abuse is received notice is sent to the district attorney, a notice is sent to the Commonwealth’s Department of Children and Families if a child is at risk, the accused priest is temporarily suspended from the ministry and there is a follow-up with the victim and investigation by the diocesan investigator, which may be differed at the request of the district attorney.
Gulluni noted the issue of abuse among the clergy is in the forefront of the news again and that Pope Francis has labeled it a “crisis.”
In the report from the Diocese, Bishop Mitchell Polanski wrote, “In recent months our church has once again found itself confronting the crisis of child sexual abuse, specifically the past failure of the church to respond to this terrible evil within our midst. While neither the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report not the Archbishop McCarrick allegations had any direct relationship to our Diocese, these and other reported failures have understandably been the cause of renewed concerns within our Catholic community.”