Bishop: victims must be heard
Testimony from other possible victims of former teacher Robert DiGiacomo is needed to launch an investigation into his conduct, the Catholic Bishop of Hamilton has said.
The Most Reverend Wes Spiewak told The Royal Gazette he was hopeful that if others had been affected, they would come forward, in the wake of Christine DaCosta’s decision to speak out last week on how she was groomed for sex by Mr DiGiacomo, while she was a 17-year-old pupil at the private Mount Saint Agnes Academy in Hamilton.
Bishop Spiewak said: “I still hope that something more could be done. That’s my hope. This is why it would be good to have some testimonies or witnesses that would help to eventually go somehow further.”
Mr DiGiacomo, now 65, is believed to have joined MSA’s teaching staff in the late 1970s after working at another school on the island.
Ms DaCosta described how the history teacher, who was also a close friend of her family and the father of her best friend, launched a “relentless pursuit” of her, which led to a relationship developing between them in 1998.
The 44-year-old married father of three was told to resign the following year and was banned from the school after Ms DaCosta told an MSA counsellor about the relationship.
Police told Ms DaCosta and her parents in 1999 that, because she was above the legal age of consent, no crime had been committed.
The same advice was repeated by police more recently when Ms DaCosta again asked for a criminal investigation.
She is now campaigning for a change to the law, to make it a criminal offence for teachers and others in positions of trust or authority to have sexual contact with youngsters under the age of 18.
Ms DaCosta was backed by Bishop Spiewak, as well as by child sex abuse prevention charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, and the Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families. Another former MSA pupil, referred to as Ms X to protect her identity, told the newspaper how Mr DiGiacomo forcibly kissed her at a graduation party in 1981.
Bishop Spiewak, who is on MSA’s board of governors, said: “To go further, there is a need of collaboration or willingness to talk about what happened in the past by other possible victims. And I believe it is not necessarily happening. It took an amount of time for Christine to get to the point in which she wanted to ... touch this wound from her past. Well, it seems that not everybody is already there.”
He said MSA, which carried out an internal investigation last year at Ms DaCosta’s request, had done as much as it could in the absence of other victims coming forward.
But he highlighted that Ms DaCosta was “not satisfied” with a decision by the school not to contact its alumni body to find out if other victims existed. Bishop Spiewak, in an interview on October 24, said the case prompted him, earlier this year, to include a request in his Bishop’s Appeal for those with information about any improper conduct in the Catholic Church in Bermuda to come forward.
He added: “I stood in front of all the Catholic communities of the island and I said that I am open to any claim and complaint. I stood and said ‘if you know, you yourself, or if you know a person, or if you know a situation, please come to me. I am open to talk and I will do my best to investigate in this case’.
“I really want to deal with that somehow. I don’t want us to move forward with possible skeletons in the cabinet and also with people being hurt.
“I said ‘if anything happened like that in the Catholic environment, I am here, I am ready’. This is from my perspective what I have done, as a human person, not just as a bishop.”
Bishop Spiewak said it was important for him to speak out and take a “pastoral approach” on the topic, while respecting the school’s request for members of its board of governors to apply a policy of confidentiality.
The Bishop added that Pope Francis had spoken “with pain” about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and how somebody had to be ready to “absorb all this pain”.
He added: “I don’t know that I am ready to absorb everything, but if I can be assisting and helpful to those who are victims of — not just necessarily in the Catholic school — but if generally they need somebody just to cry to, if I want to be faithful to my vocation, I should be there and should be listening and should be trying to help as much as I can.”
Mr DiGiacomo’s lawyer Cristen Suess said on October 14 the allegations against her client were “completely unfounded and baseless”.
However Bishop Spiewak said he believed Ms DaCosta’s account and had banned Mr DiGiacomo from giving readings at church services.
He added: “I believe that the fact that he was asked to leave the school ... it was already for me proved that actually what happened, happened and if he would approach me, I would tell him ‘listen, for me, it’s a crime’.”
•Bishop Spiewak can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 232-4414. All cases of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse should be reported to Bermuda Police Service’s Vulnerable Persons Unit on 247-1678
• The Royal Gazette is interested in speaking to anyone with a story to share on this issue or opinions on whether a change to the law is needed. E-mail email@example.com or call 278-0155. All information will be treated in confidence
• On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers
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