Diocese Sets up Fund for Victims

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
March 31, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield is setting up a fund for clergy abuse victims, a move welcomed by alleged victims as a step in the right direction.

"It's long overdue," said Stephen J. Block of Springfield, who filed suit two years ago against the diocese, accusing recently defrocked priest Richard R. Lavigne of sexually abusing him when he was a minor.

Victims say they hope the creation of "The Fund for Healing and Hope" - and the invitations received by some of them to the bishop-elect's installation tomorrow - mark the start of a more compassionate approach by the diocese to those abused by priests.

"This tells me they are starting to get it and that they mean business," said Martin P. Bono, 49, of Chicopee, who filed suit a year ago alleging the Rev. Richard F. Meehan abused him when he was a minor.

The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell will be installed as the eighth bishop of the Springfield diocese tomorrow at 2 p.m. in St. Michael's Cathedral.

Bono called the fund "shockingly good news."

"Even if I don't use it, I certainly know of others who will need it," Bono said.

The fund's kick-off will be marked by a priest running next month in the Boston Marathon.

"If some priests have been the cause of so much pain, then it must be some priests that begin to help restore confidence, hope and healing in the church," said the Rev. Daniel S. Pacholec, who is seeking donations for his 26.2-mile run on April 19.

Other fund-raising events will be held.

The fund will not be used to pay for victims' therapy, which the diocese will continue to financially support, according to its announcement.

Thomas M. Martin, 42, of Springfield said he could have used some money two years ago when he lost his apartment after losing a job.

"We all hit ruts," said Martin, who also accuses Lavigne of abusing him as a minor.

Martin and Bono said they like the idea that the fund will be run by an advisory board made up of victims' family members, who will determine how the money is disbursed.

"I see this as an acknowledgment that there is a ripple effect to abuse - that families also suffer when someone is abused," Bono said.

Sandra L. Tessier of Springfield, the mother of an alleged victim, is encouraged by recent diocesan actions.

"I see this as a sincere effort on the diocese's part to understand what victims have experienced and address their needs," said Tessier, who said she will accept an invitation to serve on the board.

She said the fund is a good place to start healing.

"We are all hurting in this diocese - victims, family members, laity, priests, church leaders. We can't heal alone. We need to do it together. But there is a long way to go," she said.

Martin and Block would like the diocese to take the $1,030 monthly stipend it has been paying Lavigne and put it in the fund. When Lavigne's defrocking was announced in January, the diocese said his stipend and health benefits will end May 1.

However, then-bishop the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre said Lavigne could apply for charity from a fund Dupre was helping to establish with donors to financially support sexually abusive priests. The fund has been called "the felons' fund" by critics of the diocese.

Dupre resigned abruptly last month after being confronted by The Republican with allegations he sexually abused two minors when he was a parish priest.

Warren Mason, a layman who pushed his pastor to protest the former bishop's handling of clergy abuse, said the diocese should take $100,000 donated to "the felons' fund" and put it in the victim fund.

"If not, it should be returned to those who donated it," said Mason, adding that the diocese sends the wrong message by facilitating a fund for abusers.

Once it is established, donations to "The Fund for Healing and Hope" and Pacholec's "Run for Healing and Hope" can be sent to the diocese at P.O. Box 1730, Springfield, MA 01101.

Family members interested in serving on the fund's board can write to Laura F. Reilly, diocesan victim outreach director.