Church Abuse Report Slated

By Jo-Ann Moriarty and Bill Zajac
The Republican [Washington DC]
November 12, 2003

WASHINGTON - A report detailing sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church that reaches back a half century is being prepared for release in February along with a narrative on what leads to the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, convened yesterday at the Hyatt Hotel on Capital Hill for a four-day meeting, heard a progress report from Anne M. Burke, the bishop's National Review Board's acting chairwoman. Burke, a federal appellate court judge in Chicago, and two other board members spoke about the ongoing data gathering and interviewing process surrounding sexual abuse cases.

"We are thoroughly convinced that the remaining study, the 'Causes and Context,' research is essential so that we can understand the underlying causes for the current crisis within the Catholic Church in the United States," Burke told the bishops at their afternoon session.

"Each one of us is sustained by faith, but motivated by justice," Burke said. "Neither can ever be permitted to become so endangered again."

The nation's bishops gave the lay review board the authority and finances to conduct the review last year. The National Review Board commissioned the John Jay College in New York to prepare Part I of the report, a "nature and scope study." The study will count the number of abuse cases since 1950 and calculate related costs for legal settlements with the victims, therapy for victims and offenders and attorney fees.

The review board will commission a study for Part II of the report, "causes and context of the current crisis."

National Review Board member William Burleigh said while the board was "created by you, the bishops, and remains sensitive to the difficult circumstances you face, we believe that we can only be a useful tool in restoring the credibility lost due to the sex abuse scandal if we remain free of any entanglements or influences, real or perceived."

The board also is working with the bishops' newly created Office of Child and Youth Protection on audits for all 195 U.S. dioceses. Investigators are reviewing whether officials are complying with the church's toughened discipline policy on guilty priests.

The Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said the Springfield diocese had been audited. The bishop said the Springfield diocese has a structure to review misconduct complaints, hired a professional to work with victims of abuse and is taking preventative measures to end the sexual abuse of minors within the church.

"We are trying to do whatever we can to prevent this from happening again," Dupre said. "We can't undo what happened ... but we certainly can help prevent it from happening again."

In the 22 months since the start of the national clergy sexual abuse scandal, at least 43 complaints of misconduct have been made against 30 diocesan workers, mostly priests, in the Springfield diocese.

Twenty-five of the accused people are priests, 10 of whom are deceased, James L. Bell, chairman of the nine-member layperson Misconduct Commission that handles misconduct accusations, said last summer.

Dupre has removed from ministry the Revs. John A. Koonz, Edward M. Kennedy, Richard F. Meehan, Alfred C. Graves and Donald V. Dube. Another, the Rev. Francis Lavelle, left his position as pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Longmeadow after two suits accusing him of sexual abuse were filed against him in 2002.

Also, Dupre has initiated an 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.

Dupre acknowledged that there is great sadness within the church and that priests throughout the diocese have been affected by the scandal.

"People are hurt," Dupre said. "Priests are carrying on - doing their jobs, doing their work. Most people in their parish love their priests. Priests get that affirmation from their people and that makes it possible for them to withstand what's going on."

Dupre said that he hopes that ultimately what the church learns from its own clergy can be used to prevent sexual abuse outside of the church, specifically in the home.

"I think the whole thing will be a sad loss of opportunity if we just consider this a problem of the church and its ministers, unless we realize that this is a systemic problem throughout society, and that most of it occurs in the home," Dupre said. "Until we realize that and we start dealing with that, then we really are not going to be protecting our children."

Also during the meeting, a committee of bishops proposed church leaders issue a statement opposing same-sex unions and urging state governments to only recognize marriages between a man and a woman.

Material from the Associated Press was used for this report.Jo-Ann Moriarty can be reached at Bill Zajac can be reached at


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