Diocese Workers Accused
Several Priests Have Been Removed from Ministry While the Church Reviews Their Cases under the U.S. Bishops' 2002 Policy

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
July 8, 2003

As the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield participates in an extensive national survey about clergy sexual abuse, The Republican has learned that 43 complaints of misconduct have been made against 30 diocesan workers in the past 18 months.

Twenty-five of the accused people are priests, according to James L. Bell, chairman of the nine-member layperson Misconduct Commission that handles misconduct accusations.

Of the 25 accused priests, some have faced complaints from multiple accusers. Bell would not identify any of the accused priests or those making complaints, but said 10 of the priests are deceased. The complaints are not restricted to conduct in the past 18 months.

Additional complaints could be brought to the panel by people who have filed civil suits against the diocese charging sexual abuse by priests. About 24 people have filed such suits, but almost all of the accusers have decided against bringing their complaints to the panel.

The diocese in recent months has revised a provision of its policy for the Misconduct Commission that at one time prevented people involved in litigation against the diocese from appearing before the panel. Plaintiffs in suits against the diocese are now allowed to meet with the panel as long as they are not accompanied by their lawyer.

"We do not want to turn the process into a legal proceeding," said Bell.

Several accused priests have been taken out of parish ministry as they seek canonical due process through the U.S. bishops' 2002-approved "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," according to Bell.

In those cases, "the commission has found the complaints to be credible and recommended actions be taken against them by the bishop," he said.

Previously, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, the bishop of the Springfield Diocese, removed at least five priests from ministry after U.S. bishops last year created a "zero tolerance" policy. Removed priests include the Revs. John A. Koonz, Edward M. Kennedy, Richard F. Meehan, Alfred C. Graves and Donald V. Dube.

Dupre has initiated a new administrative defrocking mechanism against the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne of Chicopee, who is accused of sexual abuse in 14 current lawsuits and who pleaded guilty 10 years ago to two sex abuse charges.

In February, Lavigne was classified by the state as a sex offender with a high risk of committing another crime. In the 1990s, the Springfield Diocese paid $1.4 million to settle the suits of 17 men who accused Lavigne of abusing them as minors.

Meanwhile, the Springfield Diocese is fully cooperating with a national survey about clergy sex abuse, according to Dupre. The survey is being conducted for the national review panel that was established by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to ensure implementation of the bishops' policy.

The survey, which is studying clergy sex abuse from 1950 to the present, is being conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The survey was redesigned after California bishops objected to it. They said by completing the original survey they could face criminal and civil penalties under California's strict privacy laws protecting the confidentiality of the accused and alleged victims.

Dupre stated last week that he will complete all aspects of the survey. The diocese will not, however, release any information regarding the content of the survey, according to diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont.

Dupont said that although extensive information is sought about all alleged victims and accused priests, no names are used in the survey.

The results of the survey will be released later this year or early next year, according to Kathleen L. McChesney, a former FBI official who heads the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. The results won't be broken down by region, she said.

The study is also seeking extensive information about bishops' handling of cases of abuse and confidential cash settlements.

The Springfield Diocese was recently notified that its compliance with the U.S. bishops' sexual abuse policies will come under review starting Oct. 13. The review of the nation's 195 dioceses will be conducted by the Gavin Group, a Boston firm headed by William A. Gavin, a former assistant director of the FBI. The reviews began last month. Bill Zajac can be reached at


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