Victim of Abuse Could Join Panel

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
March 20, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The possibility of a clergy sexual abuse victim joining the panel that investigates complaints about such abuse could be considered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, according to a church official who works closely with the panel.

In discussing yesterday's announced resignation of the Review Board's chairman, diocesan victim outreach worker Laura F. Reilly said it is possible that a clergy sexual abuse victim will be allowed to fill one of the four openings on the panel. The decision would be up to the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell after his April 1 installation here as bishop of the Springfield Diocese.

"It would be up to the new bishop to decide. I don't know his thoughts regarding this," said Reilly, adding that the diocese is accepting applications for the openings on the panel, which is made up of nine lay people. The board reviews complaints against clergy and diocesan workers.

Alleged victim Susan F. Morris, 47, of East Longmeadow said the addition would add credibility to the diocese's effort to deal with abuse.

"Throughout the church's dealing with this, it has always been about the church - not the victims or survivors of abuse," said Morris.

Morris, who has filed a suit accusing the now defrocked Richard R. Lavigne of abusing her as a minor, said she never brought her allegation to the board because she didn't trust it would be dealt with honestly.

Reilly said applications should be sent to her at Diocese of Springfield, P.O. Box 1730, Springfield, MA 01101.

"We look for people who have some knowledge of child abuse through either education, social work, law or medical care," Reilly said.

Peter C. Pollard, the head of the local affiliate of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he likes the idea of a victim serving on the board.

He said McDonnell should ask for the resignations of all current board members and create a new board.

"Starting off fresh would give the diocese more credibility," said Pollard.

The five current members of the board were either appointed by the late Bishop John Marshall or the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, who resigned last month amid allegations he abused two minors when he was a parish priest more than 20 years ago.

Dupre didn't want a victim joining the board, according to Reilly. Dupre felt a victim on the board would have to be balanced with a priest on the board, which he didn't want, either, Reilly said.

A priest on the board would serve as a major obstacle for victims who want to bring allegations forward, Pollard said.

"As a survivor of abuse, I would find it very difficult being in the same room with a priest - even a completely blameless one," said Pollard, who said he is a victim of clergy abuse outside the Springfield Diocese.

Meanwhile, the diocese announced yesterday that Richard Brown has stepped down for personal reasons as chairman of the Review Board a month after taking the position.

Brown, a lawyer who lives in East Longmeadow, said yesterday he made the decision several weeks ago, but declined to comment further.

Reilly, who also serves as the diocese's liaison to the board, said Brown told her that his reason had nothing to do with the board, the diocese or diocesan policies.

"I felt that if there was a problem, then I would want to know," Reilly said.

Edward C. Peck Jr. of West Springfield, a retired judge and board member, praised Brown's work.

"He was an excellent chairman and board member. He let us know his departure had nothing whatsoever to do with his work with the board," said Peck, who has served on the board since its inception in 1992.

Also yesterday, the diocese announced the design of McDonnell's official coat of arms as eighth bishop of the Springfield Diocese is complete.

The coat of arms bears the motto "Love God and Love Neighbor." It will be displayed throughout the diocese, especially above the cathedra, the seat of the bishop, at St. Michael's Cathedral.


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