Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield Probing 8 More Abuse Claims

By Stephanie Barry
The Republican
December 3, 2008

SPRINGFIELD - Several abuse claims were diverted for separate reviews after a recent multi-million settlement for dozens of alleged victims, according to a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Among about eight claims not included in 59 covered by the $4.5 million settlement are a complaint filed by a convicted murderer serving a 50-year sentence in a Texas prison.

Others were filed after the June 2 deadline set for the negotiations, while still others alleged abuse that occurred after 1986, when the diocese lost certain insurance coverage - a key issue in the recent settlement.

A few simply came down to credibility, according to a representative for the diocese.

"There are a few cases that we may not offer, at any point, a settlement," said Mark E. Dupont, a diocesan spokesman, on Wednesday. "To allow someone who's not a legitimate victim to receive a settlement - I think that's wrong all the way around, and everyone understands that."

The recent settlement with clergy abuse claimants was the second in four years for the local diocese, which paid out $7.7 million to 45 people in 2004.

The latest settlement, finalized on Nov. 20 and announced on Tuesday, was offset by an $8.5 million payment to the diocese by its insurance carriers, which initially resisted covering the claims.

Among those who settled were two alleged victims of former Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, who resigned abruptly in 2004 when The Republican questioned him about the allegations. Dupre contributed personally to a portion of those two awards, the diocese said.

Individual damages ranged from $5,000 to $200,000, but lawyers involved in the negotiation said that most of the plaintiffs' awards hovered around $75,000.

Claims against 26 clerics were settled in this round of complaints, including seven against defrocked priest Richard R. Lavigne, the target of dozens of lawsuits since the 1990s.

Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso confirmed that two of 10 complaints he filed in the latest negotiation were diverted for further consideration after Jan. 1.

"The diocese decided they had questions about the claims and decided to do it outside the usual framework," Durso said on Wednesday. Of the pair of cases, one was filed by convicted murderer William E. Burnett, 67, a Springfield native imprisoned for killing a retired businessman in a Houston hotel room in 1991.

He accused the late Springfield Bishop Christopher J. Weldon and the late Worcester Bishop Timothy J. Harrington of abusing him, along with his uncle and four other priests. The allegations were vehemently denied at the time of the claim, though Durso said Burnett passed a lie detector test. Durso filed the other complaint on behalf of a woman who alleged that a group of boys molested her as an adolescent at Lavigne's behest, said the lawyer. She has declined to make her identity public.

Of those two claims, Dupont said, "Without getting into particulars, we had serious doubts about the credibility of the claims."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.