Springfield Diocese Still Mum

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
July 24, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - As the state's attorney general released a report yesterday detailing the amount of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston since 1940, the extent of abuse in the Springfield diocese remained a mystery.

Neither church officials nor local district attorneys would say if they would ever publicly disclose the number of sexual abuse allegations and accused abusers in the Springfield diocese.

A five-sentence statement by the Springfield diocese yesterday regarding Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's report failed to address its willingness to share information. It only addressed measures it is taking to prevent future abuse.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett didn't return a phone call requesting an interview.

Assistant District Attorney Renee L. Steese of the Northwestern District Attorney's Office said her office plans to maintain its policy of not releasing information that has been shared by church officials.

She said all but one case of possible sexual abuse committed by clergy in Franklin and Hampshire counties falls outside the statute of limitations. She would not discuss the case that is being investigated.

In March 2002, the Springfield diocese began handing over records of reported abuse to local district attorney offices.

The lack of information regarding abuse in the Springfield diocese came under criticism by several people.

Sandra L. Tessier of Springfield, the mother of an alleged victim of clergy sexual abuse, said the church's silence has added to her family's pain.

"Absolutely, I want the church to release information," said Tessier, adding that the church's silence extends to victims' families.

"Not one church official has ever said 'we are sorry for what has happened.' When one person is abused, the entire family becomes a victim," said Tessier.

Tessier, a devout Catholic, said she prays every day for the victims and the abusers.

"That is the only way I get through my day," said Tessier.

Her son Andre P. Tessier, 43, filed a lawsuit a year ago, stating he was abused by the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne at approximately age 11 at St. Mary's Church in Springfield around 1969.

His mother said she believes Lavigne "murdered my son's soul" by abusing him.

Another plaintiff, Susan F. Morris, 46, of East Longmeadow, said the church is still hiding behind its secrecy.

"Until the church opens the door and reveals everything about this, (it is) hurting itself. No true healing can take place until then," Morris said.

Morris filed suit in March against the Springfield diocese, stating that Lavigne abused her when she was 11 or 12.

John J. Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer who represents 19 people who say they were victims of sex abuse in suits against the diocese, rebuked church officials for not disclosing information many Catholics desire.

"My presumption is that what Attorney General (Thomas F.) Reilly has found in his investigation in the archdiocese is systemic throughout the country, including our diocese. It may be on a different scale, but it doesn't mean it is a problem confined to Boston," Stobierski said.

The Republican recently learned that 43 complaints of misconduct have been made against 30 diocesan workers, including 25 priests, in the past 18 months.

The report by Cathedral High School of Springfield graduate Reilly covers abuse since 1940. Bill Zajac can be reached at


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