Protesters Want Bishop to Resign

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
December 9, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - Frustrated by church officials' handling of clergy sexual abuse suits, families and friends of several complainants are demanding the Roman Catholic bishop's resignation.

Holding signs and a petition seeking the resignation, the group protested the handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis by the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, at St. Michael's Cathedral yesterday.

"He says he is not playing legal hardball, but he is," said Sandra L. Tessier, who organized the protest of about a dozen "devout Catholics."

The bishop issued a statement yesterday, stating he understands the difficult emotional stress victims and their families must endure.

"However, he also feels strongly that the Diocese has made great strides in dealing with this issue and working with victims," the statement read.

In recent weeks, he has met with some victims to help in the healing process and he will continue doing so in the future.

At the bishop's request, Laura F. Reilly, the diocese's victim outreach coordinator, introduced herself to the protesters and offered to meet with them to explain efforts by the diocese to help victims.

About 27 clergy sexual abuse suits against the Springfield diocese are pending. Although the diocese two months ago agreed to accept a mediator to settle all of the cases, it has continued to pursue legal strategies that would dismiss the suits.

Tessier's son, Andre P., 43, filed suit 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.

Tessier was assaulted numerous times in various locations, including the rectory bathroom, shower and bedroom, according to his suit.

Although only a few of the 60 or so people who attended Mass yesterday signed the petition, Tessier said she was satisfied in making a presence.

"It is important for my son to know that I'm not just going to stand by any longer. I want him to know we support him," said Tessier, adding she attended Mass at Sacred Heart Church, her parish church, before the protest.

Protesters hoped to meet Dupre en route to celebrating the Mass, but Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, vicar general of the diocese, was the celebrant.

Sniezyk stopped and talked with several protesters as he walked into the church.

Theresa M. and Richard W. Martin, the parents of complainant Thomas M. Martin, held signs. One read, "Bishop Dupre, you are no longer our shepherd. You have deserted your flock." Another read, "Our children have suffered enough." Their son has filed suit against Lavigne and the diocese.

"We have been quiet for too long," said Theresa Martin a parishioner at St. Mary's Church in Springfield.

Tessier said she and other protesters will continue to circulate the petition.

"Do I think he will resign? No. I think he will retire instead - and without dignity," Tessier said.

In May Dupre, 70, said he was considering retiring before his 75th birthday, the mandatory retirement age for bishops, because of ill health

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.