Priest Says Files Destroyed

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
September 17, 2003

When the sexual abuse scandal exploded in the Boston Archdiocese, the most damning evidence of a massive cover-up was detailed in church documents.

Now a local priest says clergy were told by the Springfield bishop that church documents were destroyed here by a predecessor decades ago, just years after an altar boy was slain and a priest was questioned in his killing.

The Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, denied last night that he made the statement.

However, the Rev. James J. Scahill, pastor of St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow, said Dupre told him and other Presbyteral Council members that Bishop Christopher J. Weldon destroyed records in the mid-1970s.

The statement was reportedly made to the council, which advises the bishop on diocesan matters, several months after the national clergy sex abuse crisis began unfolding in early 2002.

"He (Dupre) announced that fortunately for the church of Springfield, upon his (Weldon's) retirement, he destroyed many personal and personnel files," said Scahill.

"He said it with glee in his voice and glee in his eye, almost gloating about it," Scahill said.

Scahill said the statement by Dupre was made months before his parish began protesting diocesan financial support of the Rev. Richard Lavigne, a convicted child molester who was a suspect in an altar boy's killing. Scahill's parish has been withholding the diocesan portion of weekly parish collections.

Dupre last night said he made a comment about Weldon's executor destroying some personal effects, not personnel records relating to priests.

Before Dupre was contacted, the Rev. Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, vicar general of the diocese, confirmed Dupre made a statement about "personal" files, not personnel files. He later amended his comments to say Dupre was talking about Weldon's executor destroying personal effects.

What diocesan leaders knew about accusations of clergy sexual abuse and when they found out about it has been the focus of pre-trial legal maneuvering in about 23 sex abuse suits against the Springfield diocese.

"It wouldn't surprise me if records were destroyed, especially since they had someone suspected of killing an altar boy," said John J. Stobierski, the lawyer for most of the plaintiffs in sex abuse suits.

"It is consistent with the pattern of secrecy and concealing misdeeds to protect the reputation of the church," said Stobierski.

While legally fighting efforts to share their files with legal counsel of alleged clergy sex abuse victims, the diocese has consistently said it had no knowledge of accusations against any priest until a complaint was made against Lavigne in 1986.

However, an affidavit by one of Weldon's lay confidants suggest Weldon and other church officials knew of accusations against Lavigne as early as the late 1960s.

The affidavit by Maurice E. DeMontigny was revealed through court records this week as part of a motion for the diocese to have the suits dismissed on charitable immunity grounds.

Scahill believes the records were relevant to possible accusations of sexual abuse, but had no specific information.

He said Weldon would have destroyed the records around 1975 or 1976, three or four years after Lavigne was the only suspect in the murder of Springfield altar boy Danny Croteau. When Lavigne became a suspect, diocesan officials had him take two lie detector tests, neither of which indicated he was involved, according to church records.

DNA tests conducted in the 1990s on evidence found at the site of the crime did not conclusively link him to the murder scene; however, District Attorney William Bennett said this year that he is pursuing more sophisticated DNA testing methods and that the investigation is still active.

Scahill said he is breaking the Presbyteral's Council's oath of confidence regarding the statement because Judge Constance M. Sweeney is scheduled to hear charitable immunity arguments regarding five sexual abuse suits against the Springfield diocese Sept. 24.

Sweeney's decision in Boston courts opened up church files that confirmed church leaders covered up accusations of abuse against priests. The Boston Archdiocese last week settled more than 500 sexual abuse suits for $85 million.

Scahill offered to be deposed regarding the statement he attributed to Dupre and suggested the bishop also be deposed.

"If he denies it, then other members of the council should be asked about it under oath," Scahill said.

"I have to break my silence in light of the diocese's statement that it had no knowledge until 1986 in regards to the proclivity of a multiple offending pedophile who had already been a priest for 20 years by 1986," Scahill said.

Lavigne admitted to molesting two boys and was banned from ministry in 1992. He was never jailed for the crime but recently registered as a sex offender after serving probation for 10 years.

The diocese is now seeking to have Lavigne defrocked by the Vatican. However, Dupre says even if he is defrocked, the diocese will continue to financially support Lavigne.

Council member the Rev. Hugh F. Crean said he didn't recall Dupre's comment, but said Weldon was the type of administrator who would have kept detailed records.

"Weldon was a micromanager who often worked on his own on a one-on-one basis," said Crean.

Diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont said, "The bishop would never have destroyed personnel records - that would be against church policy."

However, court records opened in the church abuse scandal revealed that many dioceses kept two sets of personnel records - one set of official diocesan records and another secret set of records, often detailing accusations of abuse. The Diocese of Manchester, N.H., was one of those dioceses that kept secret archives.


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