Clergy Abuse Scandal Turns to Rackets Law

Republican [Springfield MA]
May 4, 2004

Springfield could stand as a test case in the church sexual abuse scandal if U.S. prosecutors file federal charges against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and its ex-bishop, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, under the RICO laws.

RICO, or racketeer-influenced and corrupt organization, was created to fight organized crime when it infiltrates legitimate organizations, but the statue is broad enough to cover any organization that has been repeatedly used to cover up serious crime.

It would have been unthinkable when the RICO statute was passed more than 30 years ago that it would ever apply to the Catholic Church, but it would be an appropriate tool of justice if it is proven that church leaders knew of the abuse, failed to report it to legal authorities and allowed it to continue again and again.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk said a good-old-boy network protected abusive priests in the Springfield Diocese and that some priests believed it was OK to have sex with boys.

That would meet the criteria of the RICO standards.

The prosecutor's office here in Hampden County has failed the victims of the clergy abuse for decades, beginning with the victims of the now defrocked priest, Richard R. Lavigne.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett has given a grand jury a list of allegations against Dupre, saying there is probable cause he failed to report sexual misconduct and concealed the abuse, among other allegations. Dupre resigned in February just after The Republican confronted him with allegations he sexually abused two boys beginning more than 25 years ago when he was a parish priest.

Bennett should accept an offer from the federal prosecutor's office in Springfield to assist in the investigation, particularly because the county prosecutor's office did not exactly distinguish itself in handling the investigation of Lavigne.

Most recently, the epicenter of the church's sexual abuse scandal was in Boston. It has moved down the turnpike to Springfield.

Now is a good time to ask: How did the legal system allow this to go on for so long?


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