Police Probing Lavigne in Pa

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
October 27, 2004

Pennsylvania law enforcement officials have initiated investigations into criminal charges against former priest Richard R. Lavigne regarding allegations that he sexually abused a minor there nearly 20 years ago.

The district attorney offices of Dauphin and Lancaster counties are looking into allegations Lavigne brought former Berkshire County Commissioner Paul Babeu as a youth to both counties, where he allegedly sexually abused him.

Lancaster County District Attorney Donald R. Totaro and Dauphin County Assistant District Attorney Kristen L. Weisenberger confirmed Monday investigations recently were initiated.

"I can't comment on an on-going investigation, but I can say we found enough to go forward with an investigation," Weisenberger said.

Babeu said he will be meeting with investigators from both counties today.

Babeu, now a 35-year-old police officer in Chandler, Ariz., said Lavigne brought him at age 16 to Pennsylvania on a spring vacation in 1985.

"We stayed in the same hotel room together and slept in the same bed, I know we stayed for two nights in Amish Country and one night in the Hershey, Pa., area," Babeu wrote in a two-page statement he forwarded to Dauphin and Lancaster county officials within the past several weeks.

Babeu, who met Lavigne when the Roman Catholic priest was assigned to his parish in North Adams, said he plans to vigorously pursue criminal charges against Lavigne and has been encouraged by Pennsylvania prosecutors, who have invoked a tolling provision in the statute of limitations law regarding sexual crimes.

"I hope Richard Lavigne is charged with whatever Pennsylvania officials deem appropriate. ... He has escaped prosecution too many times in the past through legal wranglings," Babeu said.

Under Pennsylvania state law, rape charges must be brought within 12 years of a crime, or by the victim's 30th birthday if the victim was under 18 when raped.

However, if the alleged offender leaves the state, the statute of limitations is suspended until the person returns.

Pennsylvania Judge Linda F. Anderson recently upheld the tolling provision in a case involving alleged sexual abuse by a priest.

Anderson agreed with a prosecutor who asserted that the statute of limitations should not apply to the Rev. James J. Behan because he left Pennsylvania after the alleged crimes and never re-established residence in Pennsylvania.

Babeu, who said he was raped by Lavigne in both Pennsylvania counties, credits clergy abuse activist Warren E. Mason of East Longmeadow for recognizing the potential for prosecution in Pennsylvania. Babeu said Mason had read about the Behan case and alerted him to the possibility of pursuing criminal charges.

"The reason I went into law enforcement was that I wanted to devote my life to something honorable," said Babeu, who is also a captain in the U.S. Army.

Babeu, who was among 46 claimants who settled claims of clergy sexual abuse for about $7.5 million with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield in August, has been one of the most outspoken alleged victims of clergy abuse.

He has repeatedly said he informed diocesan officials in 1986 he was abused by Lavigne, and he blames their lack of action against the former priest for subsequent abuse Lavigne allegedly perpetrated on others.

Babeu pursued criminal complaints against Lavigne more than a decade ago.

However, a statutory rape indictment brought against Lavigne on Babeu's behalf in 1991 was dismissed as a result a plea agreement between Lavigne and the Northwestern district attorney's office regarding child molestation charges in 1992. That case did not involve Babeu.

Lavigne was given 10 years probation.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said his organization is supporting Babeu's effort.

Clohessy is encouraged by changes within law enforcement regarding clergy sexual abuse.

"We have seen that prosecutors, police, investigators and judges have been increasingly resourceful and courageous going after molesters even with old evidence and allegations. If kids are going to safe, it takes real concerted effort," Clohessy said.

Lavigne has been the only publicly identified suspect in the 1972 unsolved murder of 13-year-old Springfield altar boy Daniel Croteau. District Attorney William M. Bennett continues to pursue the case and hasn't eliminated Lavigne as a suspect.

In the past decade or so, about 50 people have come forward to say they were sexually abused as minors by Lavigne. Many of them explored possible criminal complaints against him, but abandoned them because of statute of limitation laws in Massachusetts.

Lavigne was taken out of ministry permanently when he was arrested on child molestation charges in 1991.

The Springfield Diocese announced in January Lavigne was defrocked. Several months ago, diocesan officials stopped financially supporting Lavigne. He had been receiving a monthly stipend of about $1,000 and health insurance benefits since his arrest.

Lavigne, who last year was classified by the state as a sexual offender most likely to re-offend, lives in Chicopee. He could not be reached for comment.


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