Diocese Talks of Settlements with Victims

By Bill Zajac
February 25, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Clergy sexual abuse settlement negotiations could take a major step this week as monetary figures could be discussed with about half of those who filed suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, according to two alleged victims.

"We were told that we should stay near a phone starting Friday," said one of two alleged victims who spoke on condition they not be identified.

The settlement discussions are taking place at a time when the diocese is still reeling from sexual abuse allegations leveled at former bishop Thomas L. Dupre. He retired Feb. 11, a day after he was confronted by The Republican with allegations that he sexually abused two boys beginning more than 20 years ago.

The two men who accused Dupre are not involved in the settlement negotiations. They were scheduled to be interviewed by investigators attached to the Hampden County district attorney's office yesterday.

Alleged victims as well as other settlement participants have been asked not to discuss the meetings in an attempt to keep them secret. Lawyers have consistently refused comment.

The people who have filed suits against the diocese have been broken into two groups during negotiations. One consists of the 14 people who have accused defrocked priest Richard R. Lavigne of abusing them when they were minors. The second group includes people with claims against other clergy.

The alleged victims of Lavigne have been meeting one by one with negotiators this week.

"Every one of us is being called individually to the table to discuss the kind of abuse we experienced and how it affected our lives," said one.

The alleged victims described it as emotionally draining. At least two were accompanied by their parents.

"Several of the insurance adjusters, who are women, were in tears," said one of the alleged victims.

Participants include lawyers for the diocese and the alleged victims, the diocese's insurance carriers, a forensic psychologist, the diocese's victim outreach director Laura F. Reilly and mediator Paul Finn, who helped settle about 500 cases in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, the interim diocesan administrator, has attended at least part of Monday's and yesterday's session.

No negotiations are planned today as Sniezyk has a commitment in Washington, D.C. They will resume tomorrow, when the alleged victims of Lavigne are expected to complete their testimony.

A discussion of possible settlement amounts is expected to start Friday. Neither of those who spoke with The Republican would discuss what they were asking of the diocese regarding a financial settlement.

In the Archdiocese of Boston, settlements ranged between $80,000 and $300,000 per victim, according to one of the lawyers involved in the settlements.

Settlement amounts were based upon the effects of the abuse on alleged victims' lives - not the nature or number of incidents.

Although the negotiations began in January, alleged victims first participated in the talks Monday, the two said. March 15 was the original deadline to settle suits.

This is the second round of settlements involving alleged victims of Lavigne. Seventeen alleged victims of Lavigne settled suits with the diocese for $1.4 million in the 1990s.

Lavigne, who has been accused during the years by 35 people of abusing them, is a convicted child molester and the only suspect in the 1972 unsolved murder of 13-year-old Springfield altar boy Daniel Croteau. DNA tests conducted eight years ago failed to conclusively link him to the crime, but the district attorney has said he is pursuing advanced testing.

The 62-year-old Chicopee resident pleaded guilty in 1992 to molesting two boys. He was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Lavigne was classified by the state last year as a sexual offender with a high risk to offend again.

He was removed from all ministry in 1991. The Vatican's decision to defrock Lavigne was made Nov. 20 and formally announced last month.

Dupre was criticized by alleged victims of dragging his feet on the decision to try to defrock Lavigne. He has yet to respond to allegations he sexually abused children himself, and a lawyer for the men said Dupre is being treated at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which is known for treating pedophile priests.

Neither the district attorney's office nor the lawyers representing the two men were available for comment yesterday.


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