Alleged Abuse Victims Want Good Faith Effort

Republican [Springfield MA]
September 21, 2003

More than a decade ago, when this newspaper first began investigating allegations that the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne had molested children, the Diocese of Springfield refused to cooperate and fought reporters at every turn.

How much did diocese officials know, and when did they know it?

Lawyers for nearly two dozen alleged victims of Lavigne are still attempting to learn the answers to those questions.

The church has a history of secrecy and denial that is more the fault of institutional arrogance than it is any individual.

Now, a local priest says he was told by the Most. Rev. Thomas L. Dupre that a predecessor destroyed records that might have implicated the church. The Rev. James J. Scahill contends that Dupre told him and other members of a church advisory council that Bishop Christopher J. Weldon destroyed records decades ago, upon his retirement and just a few years after Lavigne was questioned as a suspect in the death of an altar boy.

Dupre vehemently denies he ever said such a thing. We hope Scahill is mistaken, that he misunderstood what he heard, but lawyers for the alleged victims believe it is consistent with how the diocese has reacted so far. The only course of action for the diocese is to open its records to its accusers to show it has nothing to hide.

A Hampden Superior Court judge is considering a motion regarding whether hundreds of legal and diocesan documents related to Lavigne should be released to a Greenfield man who is suing the diocese in a sexual abuse case. The church has fought efforts to hand over the documents to lawyers for the alleged victims, saying they want to protect the privacy of the alleged victims. That's not much of a good faith effort.

While there is reason to be encouraged by news that the diocese has agreed to accept a mediator to settle all pending cases of abuse, the diocese continues to listen to its lawyers rather than its heart in the court room. On Wednesday, Judge Constance M. Sweeney is scheduled to hear arguments that five cases against the diocese should be dropped because it has immunity as a charitable organization.

Playing legal hardball might be acceptable behavior from a large corporation, but it is not acceptable in this case. No one, not even the church, can undo the past. What is important to the alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse is how the church behaves now.

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