Diocese Won't Detail Priest Aid

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
October 11, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - As one parish continues to protest against the financial support given to a priest convicted of molestation, officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield refuse to say how many other priests accused of sexual abuse may be receiving the same aid.

Since June 2002, the Rev. James J. Scahill and his St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow have been protesting the diocese's financial support of the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne by withholding the 6 percent of weekly collections that is supposed to go to the bishop's office.

Lavigne, of Chicopee, admitted in 1992 to molesting two boys. In 1994, the diocese settled 17 suits filed by those who say he sexually molested them as children. Fourteen other suits are pending.

Lavigne, although still a priest, has been removed from the ministry as have at least five others after the Misconduct Commission found merit in accusations of sexual abuse against them. A sixth priest asked to be removed from his duties after being named in a lawsuit.

The diocese has refused to release the names of all priests removed from ministry and what amount of financial support they may be receiving. However, according to the diocese, a "financial accounting" will be released later. Officials issued a statement this week that said the church is obligated to support priests who can't support themselves.

"The idea is they are not to be placed on the backs of the public. Such support in the case of someone removed from ministry includes health insurance and a monthly stipend that obviously is less than what any active priest receives," read the statement.

"The determination of need is made on an individual basis and considers whether or not there is any other source of support or personal funds," the statement read.

Lavigne is receiving a monthly stipend of $1,030 and health and dental benefits, the diocese confirmed in the spring. If the six other priests are receiving the same stipend, the cost to the diocese would be $86,520 annually.

Insurance coverage would be more. Diocesan priests in good standing receive fully paid health and dental benefits that cost $8,820 annually. The Blue Cross/Blue Shield health plan provides for $4 co-pays on office visits and prescriptions.

The Springfield Diocese plans to release the financial accounting when the 25 lawsuits filed against the diocese over sex abuse complaints have been resolved, according to the statement.

"This will allow for a more complete disclosure, which is what our Catholic faithful are most interested in receiving. The Diocese remains committed to resolving these matters in a fair and just manner, on a case-by-case basis," the statement read.

Only a few dioceses nationwide have released financial accountings of the sex abuse scandal. The Belleville, Ill., diocese spent $3.3 million during the last 11 years, including $275,086 in 2002. The Syracuse, N.Y., diocese spent $757,131 during the last decade.

Most Catholics want to see an accounting of the crisis, according to a study commissioned by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities Inc. in Washington. The study, conducted last fall by the Gallup Organization, surveyed 656 people nationwide and found:

79 percent agree that each diocesan bishop should give a full accounting of the financial costs of settlements arising from the priest sexual abuse scandal, 68 percent favor an independent audit of finances at every church level, with the results made public, 66 percent agree that the revelations concerning the lack of financial accountability arising from the sexual abuse scandal are a cause of concern, and 65 percent agree that the bishops should be more accountable on finances.

A spokesman for the Greater Springfield chapter of the Voices of the Faithful said he favors a full disclosure.

"We would be in favor of open and transparent workings in the diocese in all matters, not just financial ones," said Robert A. Riordan of Longmeadow.

Keeping aspects of the church secret prevents "full participation in the church by the laity," Riordan said.

The Voice of the Faithful recently issued a statement critical of the diocese's legal tactics. "We have been deeply concerned about efforts to dismiss cases based on defenses such as the First Amendment and Charitable Immunity," the chapter's statement read.

The Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the diocese, announced last week that the diocese would release within the next several months the number of accusations of clergy sexual abuse that the diocese has received in the past 50 years


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