Group Requests Deadline Delay

By Bill Zajac
The Republic
July 30, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - A support group is urging the bishop to extend the settlement deadline for those who have accused the diocese of clergy sexual abuse so the claimants can review investigation files due to be released.

In a settlement announced July 22, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield agreed to provide more than $7 million, lifetime counseling and other benefits to 46 people who said they were the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Claimants have until Aug. 5 to opt in or out of the settlement.

John J. Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer representing the claimants, also had been trying to force the release of impounded investigation files dealing with the 1972 murder of Daniel Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy from Springfield. The suspect in the case, defrocked priest Richard R. Lavigne, was accused by 24 of the claimants of abuse. Stobierski wanted the files to determine when church officials became aware of abuse complaints against Lavigne.

Stobierski was joined in the legal effort by The Republican. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Tuesday ruled that the records should be released.

The Springfield Chapter of Those Abused by Priests issued a statement yesterday asking the diocese to delay the settlement deadline, saying the claimants may want to review the files. Some of the documents were released Tuesday, and others may be available next week.

"I don't want anyone second guessing for the rest of their life a decision to opt in or out of the settlement just because they had to make that decision before the files were released," said Peter C. Pollard, coordinator of the Springfield chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Stobierski said he didn't see a need to extend the settlement deadline.

"When we entered into a settlement agreement, we understood the SJC decision was imminent. The diocese waived all defenses and agreed to settle all cases upon the amount of damage done to survivors and the kinds and duration of abuse. What they knew and when they knew it was not a factor," said Stobierski.

"We have had conversations with our clients with respect to whether they need more time. No one has said they need more time in deciding whether to opt in or out," said Stobierski, who is in line to earn $2.5 million in the proposed $7.5 million settlement.

"In the event that someone needs more time, we will try to accommodate their request. But that will be subject to negotiations," Stobierski said.

Pollard said he communicated with several claimants who indicated they may need more time. Efforts to reach several claimants for comment failed.

The diocese would not extend the deadline without receiving a request from Stobierski, according to diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont.

"Last week, the diocese entered into a signed agreement with counsel for 46 victims. We are obligated to honor that agreement," Dupont stated.

"Because of that, we will only respond to counsel who negotiated the agreement. As of now, there has been no communication from that counsel regarding any of the terms that had been negotiated," Dupont said.


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