Diocese Receives Abuse Complaints
According to the diocese, 31 outstanding clergy abuse suits and claims may be settled once the diocese and its insurers reach an agreement.

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Republican
January 8, 2005

GREENFIELD - In addition to six priests being accused in lawsuits of sexual abuse this week, four additional claims against now deceased priests were made directly to the diocese recently, according to a Greenfield lawyer.

Three of the four deceased priests never had public accusations made against them before this week, lawyer John J. Stobierski said at a press conference yesterday in his Greenfield office.

Stobierski said the complaints by his clients against the priests, who were not identified, will be settled through an agreement with the diocese. The same agreement will be used for the claims made in the six lawsuits filed Wednesday in Hampden Superior Court. The suits named individuals as defendants, but not the diocese.

A diocesan official confirmed the claims against the deceased priests and the existence of an agreement that allows the diocese and the accusers to try to reach a financial settlement without the diocese being named as a defendant in suits. The agreement stands even if the statute of limitations has been exceeded in any of the 10 complaints.

The statute of limitations in civil suits is three years, which means a suit has to be filed within three years of an abuse victim's making a connection between the abuse and personal problems.

The 10 claims by clients of Stobierski, who last summer settled 46 clergy sexual abuse complaints against the diocese for $7.7 million, bring to 31 the number of unsettled clergy sexual abuse suits and claims facing the diocese.

Settlements are not likely until negotiations between the diocese and its insurance carriers are completed, according to a diocesan statement yesterday.

"The diocese is currently discussing how much of last year's more than $7 million settlement will be reimbursed by insurance, and what strategy the carriers will adopt to resolve the unsettled suits," said diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont.

Diocesan officials also are urging alleged clergy abuse victims to bring allegations to the diocesan Review Board, which investigates claims. Those who report complaints are entitled to receive counseling.

"The bishop believes that healing requires a multilevel approach and we want to leave all avenues open. It is the bishop's desire not to take any steps that hinder the healing process," said Dupont.

Stobierski yesterday said that the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, has taken a more pastoral approach to clergy sexual abuse issues than his predecessor.

Although he didn't mention the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre by name, Stobierski said McDonnell's predecessor used technical legal strategies to try to blunt clergy abuse suits against the diocese.

Dupre resigned as bishop 11 months ago after he was confronted with allegations that he allegedly abused two minors more than 20 years ago. In September, Dupre was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of rape, but Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett dismissed the charges saying the criminal statute of limitations had expired.

One of the six suits filed this week makes the first sexual abuse accusation against the late Monsignor Timothy L. Leary. Although Leary was not named as a defendant, the suit filed by a 48-year-old Springfield man under the pseudonym "Frank Doe" alleges Leary held out the promise of a Cathedral High School education while abusing him between the fourth and eighth grades.

The suit named the Rev. Francis P. Lavelle as the defendant, saying he also abused the boy after being introduced to him by Leary.

All the defendants named in the suits are no longer in ministry. They are the Revs. John A. Koonz, Michael H. Devlin and Leo Landry. Defrocked priest Richard R. Lavigne was named as defendant in two suits.</story>


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