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  Two Men Sue Convicted Priest Alleging They Were Abused in the 1970s

Associated Press
May 10, 2002

Two Springfield men who say they were molested by a western Massachusetts priest later convicted of assault are accusing another cleric of negligence, saying he was aware of the abuse but did not intervene to stop it.

Stephen Block, 42, and Thomas Martin, 41, filed a lawsuit Friday in Hampden Superior Court claiming they were both abused by the Rev. Richard Lavigne when they attended St. Mary's Church in Springfield in the early 1970s.

Block says the Rev. Robert Thrasher saw Lavigne molesting him once, but didn't stop it. Martin says if Thrasher had intervened, Lavigne may have stopped abusing him.

Block and Martin are suing Lavigne, Thrasher and the Springfield Diocese.

The diocese and Thrasher denied allegations of negligence. Lavigne's lawyer, Max Stern, did not return a phone call to The Associated Press.

Block claims that Lavigne put his hand in Block's shorts when the two were in a room at St. Mary's rectory. Block claims Thrasher looked into the room and saw the episode, which occurred when Block was 9 years old. It was the second of three times that Lavigne molested him, Block said.

"I turned around and looked up and it was Father Thrasher," Block said Friday at his lawyer's office in Greenfield. "The look on his face was one of disbelief."

Martin, who says he was molested by Lavigne between the ages of 8 and 14, said Thrasher could have prevented Lavigne from molesting him and other boys if he spoke out.

"When the abuse started, I thought it was normal," Martin said. "This was a priest doing it. Why would he do something wrong?"

Thrasher, currently the pastor of Holy Family Parish in Holyoke, said he never saw Lavigne abusing Block.

"I say, with absolute certainty, the incident never occurred," he said. "The reason I could say that is, if it had, I certainly would have confronted Father Lavigne."

The diocese, in a prepared statement, supported Thrasher.

"Any allegation that this misconduct was witnessed by Father Robert Thrasher is untrue," the statement said.

The statement went on to say church officials had not seen the civil suit, but would forward it "to our insurance carrier for an appropriate response."

Lavigne, 61, pleaded guilty in 1992 to indecent assault for fondling two altar boys at a Shelburne Falls parish. He was sentenced to 10 years probation and psychiatric treatment. Church officials banned him from ever serving as a priest in the Springfield diocese.

In 1994, the diocese settled a lawsuit for $1.4 million with 17 alleged victims of Lavigne, including several from Springfield.

John Stobierski, a lawyer for Block and Martin, said his clients had not been involved in that settlement. He said they filed the civil suit because the statute of limitations on criminal charges had expired.

Stobierski also represents Franklin County man, identified in court records only as "John Doe," who is suing Lavigne for abuse.

 
 

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