Forgiveness from a Father Touched by Abuse

By Tom Shea
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 29, 2004

It's Ash Wednesday

Charlie Shattuck asks the waitress if the restaurant has any meatless soups. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. She recommends the spinach soup.

He orders a bowl and a cup of coffee. We haven't seen each other in about 10 years. There is no shortage of things to talk about.

Charlie is 59. He has a passing resemblance to Springfield Bishop-Emeritus Joseph F. Maguire. He says he has been told that before.

Charlie, the father of 12, is a grandfather now - five boys and one girl. Two more of his children will be getting married in the next couple of months. He doesn't plan to see Mel Gibson's film about Jesus Christ. He can't wait for spring. His golf game has gotten better since the last time we talked.

Yes, he still has visions of Jesus and Mary, but is reluctant to talk about them. During Lent, Charlie, the spiritual director of about 40 families in the Heath-based Holy Trinity Lay Community, hopes to attend Mass every day.

If the name Shattuck sounds familiar, it is because in October 1991 Charlie went to the state police with the information two of his sons had been molested by their friend and pastor, a Roman Catholic priest, Richard R. Lavigne. The priest was arrested.

Two days later on newspaper front pages and television newscasts, Lavigne's name surfaced as a suspect in the 1972 unsolved slaying of Springfield altar boy Danny Croteau.

A Richter scale could have measured the effect among the faithful. Shock and disbelief took the early lead. It was just the beginning.

Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas L. Dupre resigned after The Republican asked about allegations of sexual abuse.

In the course of an Ash Wednesday lunch, as his spinach soup and coffee got cold, Charlie talked about the past and what he and his family endured at the epicenter. But mostly, he talked about the need for forgiveness and healing.

"We have to rise above the present and look to the future," he says. "I know we've been let down hard by the actions of some of our priests and bishops. I believe we are in a time of church purification, and not just in this diocese. And, it is the responsibility of every baptized Catholic to reflect Christ in the world.

"Which means a life of compassion, forgiveness and mercy. Every day that is our calling. Every day this is our challenge. Some days it is not easy at all. I know that. It doesn't change the fact that is what we are called to do."

The diocese put up a vigorous defense of Lavigne, and in some quarters, this included a none-too-subtle campaign against Charlie Shattuck - spreading the word that he was a cult leader.

A priest friend took out a full-page newspaper ad defending Charlie.

"I've heard all the words, 'kook,' 'wacko'," Charlie says. "I'm not. I forgive all the words and the people who said them. They don't know me. Or the people in this community."

The irony: Lavigne did. His impression of Charlie, included in a letter he once sent to Bishop Maguire, was: "I found him to a be a gentle, ordinary, and sincere man, devoted to the Church, the Virgin Mary, and to common prayer with his neighbor. Frankly, I'm very impressed by the piety, genuine goodness, and traditional, albeit conservative values of the group. And, I am not easily impressed."

In June 1992 before a judge who thought stories about a priest molesting children belonged behind tire ads in the back of the newspaper, Lavigne pleaded guilty to two counts of molestation. He avoided jail time. He was sentenced to 10 years' probation. Last month, it was announced that Lavigne had been defrocked.

Charlie Shattuck feels only compassion for him. He has long-since forgiven his one-time pastor.

"Believe it or not, that doesn't mean I don't think people have to face the consequence of their actions. There are God's laws and civil laws. And we have to answer to both. Justice should be served. But the church should reach out to the victims with the same energy they defend accused priests. We all hurt when this happens," Charlie says.

Charlie's two sons are now grown.

How are they doing?

"They are good kids," he says. "They have good jobs. They never lost their faith."

Tom Shea can be reached at


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