ST. LOUIS — A civil lawsuit filed in Springfield, Massachusetts, alleges St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski was part of “abhorrent attempts” to protect the reputation of a now disgraced Roman Catholic bishop while at his previous post in the northeast.
The plaintiff, named John Doe in court records, had already claimed that the late Springfield Bishop Christopher J. Weldon sexually abused him in the 1960s when he was an altar boy. Now he alleges he was also harmed by the alleged cover-up of the abuse decades later when he first started reporting it to the diocese in late 2014.
In part, Rozanski, who served as bishop in Springfield from 2014 to 2020, is accused of approving an official statement to the press denying that the Diocesan Review Board found a credible allegation of abuse against Weldon when that statement was “patently false,” according to the Jan. 28 lawsuit, reported Tuesday by The Berkshire Eagle newspaper.
Though the lawsuit specifically names Rozanski as one of the defendants, his spokesman told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday by email: “The Archdiocese of St. Louis does not respond to inquiries regarding pending litigation against another diocese.”
The case, and related investigations by The Eagle and a retired Superior Court judge, challenge Rozanski’s leadership and the viability of lay review boards, which have been championed by the Catholic Church as effective layers of transparency to root out serial abusers.
The latest lawsuit alleges that the Diocese of Springfield, while under the leadership of Rozanski, took years to officially validate the victim’s claims of sexual abuse by a leading church official. The delay and mismanagement of the case “demonstrated callous disregard for the Plaintiff’s suffering, further victimizing” him, his lawsuit claims.
Though advocates say he was slow to act, Rozanski eventually sought an independent investigation of the sex abuse claims in 2019. The Springfield Diocese hired retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis to lead it. Nearly a year later, on June 21, 2020, Velis wrote in the 373-page report that Doe’s claims of sexual molestation by Bishop Weldon were “unequivocally credible,” both as a principal and “coventurer” of anal rape, indecent assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
His investigation suggested that there may have been deceptive practices by a private investigator hired by the diocese, manipulated reports and that the Diocesan Review Board was in “dire need of changes.” Velis wrote that “from the inception of the complaint through the follow-up process, the procedure was greatly flawed.”
And the procedure was toothless when it came to dealing with allegations against a former bishop.
“Significantly,” Velis wrote, “in evaluating the actions of those involved in the Weldon assessment, I found that there was a reluctance to fervently pursue an evaluation of allegations against him due to his prominence and revered legacy in the religious community.”
In a June 24 press conference about the report findings, Rozanski told reporters: “I want to apologize for the chronic mishandling of this case, time and time again since 2014. At almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well to a deep desire for a just response for the terrible abuse which he endured.”
Two weeks before, on June 10, there was a more celebratory press event in Missouri. Rozanski’s promotion from bishop in Springfield to archbishop in St. Louis was announced.
At least one victim advocate organization publicly asked for his promotion to be stopped because of the handling of the case in Springfield. In July, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s top diplomat to the United States, told the Post-Dispatch in a brief interview that Rozanski’s installation would go on as planned, regardless of the “complicated” case in question. Rozanski was installed as archbishop in St. Louis on Aug. 25.
Asked Tuesday if Rozanski has made changes to the lay review board since arriving to St. Louis, or taken a notable interest in it, his spokesman said in a prepared statement that Rozanski “has been very supportive and grateful for the work done by our Office of Child and Youth Protection and the Archdiocesan Review Board.”