Diocese Outlines Changes
Procedures Set in Misconduct

By Ford Turner
[Springfield MA] Union-News
December 14, 1992

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield this weekend asked victims of misconduct by diocesan personnel to call the church, named a commission to investigate the complaints and outlined possible corrective actions. The directives came from Bishop John A. Marshall and were read to parishioners throughout the diocese at Masses beginning 4 p.m. Saturday. They were the strongest diocesan response to date following a series of highly publicized incidents of sexual misconduct by priests in Western Massachusetts and elsewhere.

"We deeply regret the imperfections and sins of our members, some of these also being crimes in civil law. We firmly intend to acknowledge and to correct every semblance of impropriety in our midst," Marshall said in a letter to the diocese.

The letter was distributed to the news media yesterday. Spokesman Michael Graziano said Marshall would not comment prior to a press conference scheduled for this afternoon.

A toll-free telephone number, 1-800-842-9055, was provided for people harmed by the conduct of any priest, religious or lay person accountable to the diocese. Marshall said one or more members of the nine-member Commission to Investigate Improper Conduct of Diocesan Personnel would investigate each complaint.

Legitimate complaints will be reviewed by the full commission. In such cases, Marshall said the panel will hear from the person making the allegation, the accused person, witnesses, and consultants.

After deliberation, the commission will make a recommendation for action by the bishop.

Substantiated allegations of law-breaking behavior will be reported to civil authorities, Marshall said.

Range of remedies

Personnel who conducted themselves improperly may be placed on administrative leave, provided with a psychological evaluation and therapeutic treatment, and subjected to the recommendations of the commission on possible reassignment or other employment.

The commission has conducted organizational meetings but received no cases, according to member Edward C. Peck Jr., a retired Hampden County Housing Court justice who lives in West Springfield.

"We are only a recommending body. The bishop has the full responsibility for administration," said Peck. "He wants to maintain the confidence that the people have in the church by having a more or less independent body."

Other members are Sister Janice Carmen, coordinator of student services for the diocesan schools office in Springfield; Irene Kimball, a social worker; Patricia Peters Martin, a Longmeadow psychologist; Patricia Marie McKiernan, principal of Hazardville Memorial Elementary School in Enfield; Leonardo Rodriguez of Westfield, a Hampden County Superior Court employee; James J. Smith of Pittsfield, a retired insurance agent; Robert J. Van Wart of Springfield, executive vice president of Community United Way of Pioneer Valley; and Mary T. Walsh, an adjunct professor at Springfield College and former assistant superintendent of Springfield Schools.

Peck has helped resolve complaints of police brutality, accusations between court employees, and financial disputes involving lawyers. Most professional organizations have a standard practice for handling internal complaints, he said.

"These are all things that no one volunteers to do," he said. "But when you have the time, you feel that you have to do your part."

On Friday, a former Roman Catholic priest, James R. Porter, was convicted in Minnesota of molesting a 15-year-old female babysitter in 1987.

Last month, the Rev. Gary LaMontagne, a former curate at St. Mary's Church in Westfield, admitted in court that he fondled a female employee in the rectory. He pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent assault and was sentenced to three years of probation.

In June, the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, a Roman Catholic priest for 25 years and pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Shelburne Falls, admitted in court to fondling the buttocks of two parishioners. He pleaded guilty to molestation charges and was sentenced to 10 years of probation.

Area misconduct charges

In the past seven months two Roman Catholic priests, Richard R. Lavigne and Gary A. LaMontagne, pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct charges, and a Polish National Catholic Church priest, Julian Pagacz, accepted a plea bargain and ad a charge of indecent assault and battery continued for one year without finding.

Lavigne, 51, a Roman Catholic priest for 25 years and pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Shelburne Falls, pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child and was sentenced to 10 years of probation and a suspended four- to six-year state prison sentence.

Pagacz, 50, pastor of St. Valentine's Polish National Catholic Church in Northmpton, accepted a plea bargain and had a charge of indecent assault and battery continued for one year without finding. He submitted to facts sufficient for a finding of guilty on a charge that he indecently touched a 17-ear-old girl from Hampshire County.

LaMontagne, 38, formerly curate at St. Mary's Church in Westfield, admitted he fondled a female employee in the church rectory and was sentenced to three years of probation during which he cannot serve as a parish priest. He is now undergoing counseling with a Northampton psychologist.


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