Losing Faith in Probe of Clergy Sex Scandal

Republican [Springfield MA]
February 23, 2004

Danny Croteau's body was found by a fisherman under a bridge in Chicopee on April 15, 1972. He was buried several days later following a funeral Mass celebrated by the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, a close friend of Danny's family.

The family learned later that Lavigne was the prime suspect in the boy's death, but Hampden County District Attorney Matthew Ryan didn't pursue the case aggressively because he didn't think a jury would ever convict a priest of murder.

A new district attorney, William M. Bennett, reopened the case nearly 20 years later, after Lavigne was arraigned on charges of sexually assaulting three minors.

After reopening the case, not much has happened with the investigation, and no one has been charged in Danny's death.

Given the local prosecutors' track record in the Lavigne case, we find it difficult to muster confidence in this new investigation of sexual abuse allegations within the Springfield diocese.

A higher authority such as state Attorney General Thomas Reilly, who as a child attended Mass daily at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, should take over the investigation. The Hampden County district attorney's office, beginning with Matthew Ryan more than three decades ago and continuing today, has been a disappointment.

Reilly's office completed a 16-month investigation into sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Boston in July, and released its findings in a 76-page report in order to have a public record of what he called one of the worst tragedies involving children in the history of Massachusetts. In Hampden County, Bennett's approach is more akin to "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil."

Feb. 11, just a day after The Republican confronted him with accusations that he had sexually abused two boys while a parish priest in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre abruptly resigned as leader of the 270,000 Roman Catholics in Western Massachusetts.

Bennett said his office will try to determine if the allegations against Dupre are true, but the investigation needs the involvement of a different authority with a more obvious commitment to investigate, expose and inform.


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