DIOCESE OF SPRINGFIELD MA
February 20, 2004
In February 2004, the Diocese of Springfield released, for the first time, a report detailing the scope of child sexual abuse in our diocese from 1950 to May 2003. It was with great sadness that we reported seventy (70) victims had been identified.
Understanding how very painful and difficult it is to bring up past sexual abuse, we suspected that there were more victims who had not yet come forward. With great sorrow, we found that we were correct: in the ensuing eighteen months, 47 more victims were found to have credible cases against priests. Thus, we now need to report that we know of 117 victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The majority of the abuse took place between 1965 and 1974 (60 cases); the majority of the victims were between the ages of 11-14 (61 victims); and 84% of the victims were male. Credible allegations were lodged against forty-one (41) priests: thirty-three (33) were diocesan priests; eight were religious order priests. None of the accused priests are still in active ministry. Credible complaints were also received against a lay employee and a deacon. [The two allegations against retired Bishop Thomas Dupre are not included in these statistics because the complaints are outside of Diocesan jurisdiction and are being handled by Church Authorities in Rome.]
Child sexual abuse is a horrible crime. Our hearts go out to those who were abused. But, it is important to realize that those who were sexually abused are not the only victims. Abuse causes harm to the families of the victims; to all the great priests who serve in our diocese; to the laity who find their faith and beliefs shaken; and to our Church as a whole.
The Diocese of Springfield commits itself to encouraging victims to come forward – the Victim Advocate can be reached at 413-452-0624 or 1-800-842-9055. Moreover, we are committed to teaching our staff, volunteers, and children about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it. It is imperative that we do everything we can to ensure that no more children fall victim to sexual abuse.
Every parish now has a Child Advocate. The Child Advocate ensures that the child abuse prevention activities are implemented in the parish. He or she is also a resource in the parish for anyone who has questions and/or concerns about child sexual abuse (not just clergy abuse – ANY child sexual abuse). If you do not know who your parish Child Advocate is – ask your pastor!
The charts accompanying this article provide a historical perspective of child sexual abuse in our diocese. For a complete report on the 2004 sexual abuse figures, as well as the historical figures, log onto our web site at www.diospringfield.org
Laura Failla Reilly
Payment for Priests' Counseling $112,452
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Payment for Priests' Counseling $176,712
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Age of Victim Number of Victims Percentage
* * *
Age of Victim Number of Victims Percentage
Year Number of Cases
* * *
* Allegations are determined to be "credible" through one of
Status of Priests with Credible Accusations
Religious Order Priests
** Unable to determine total number of Religious Order
Status of Religious Order Priests
Of the 44 cases/claims:
** 2 additional claims against the former Bishop are outside Diocesan
Of the 8 previously accused:
The study shows that 1.6 percent of diocesan priests were found to be abusers, significantly lower than the roughly 4 percent figure of clergy accused of abuse included in the draft of a national survey scheduled to be released next week.
According to the report, allegations were deemed to be credible through an admission by a priest, the determination of the diocese's Review Board or by a finding in a court case.
A national organization representing victims of clergy sex abuse and lawyers who have brought lawsuits on behalf of alleged victims criticized the diocese's report, questioning the validity of the data and the omission of the names of abusive priests.
The report, published yesterday in The Catholic Observer, the diocesan newspaper, is part of the national study of clergy sexual abuse of minors requested by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and does not include allegations leveled against former Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre. Dupre retired last week after The Republican confronted him with a list of questions regarding alleged abuse against two adolescents that began more than 20 years ago.
"There can be no greater sadness than failing our children. We, as a church, have failed our children and this has been acknowledged by the U.S. bishops," Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, who is serving as diocesan administrator in the wake of Dupre's retirement, said in the local report.
According to the report, none of the priests found to be offenders are in active ministry in the diocese. But David G. Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the names of the abusers should be made public.
"You can't protect yourself from ... predators if you don't know who they are," he said, "and we would not tolerate a chemical company that announced in Springfield, 'Hey, we have 22 toxic waste dumps but we're not going to tell you where they are.'"
Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who represents about 20 people who have filed clergy sexual abuse suits against the diocese, said making public the names of the priests would show the diocese is truly interested in correcting the problem of clergy abuse.
"Other dioceses have released the names. Particularly given the state of affairs these days, I think it would behoove our diocese to do the same," he said.
Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., representing the men who said Dupre molested them in the 1970s and 1980s, said there was no independent review of the report and the document should not be seen as evidence that the diocese has made significant progress in addressing clergy sexual abuse.
"This data should be in no way cause for celebration in the Springfield diocese," he said.
Laura F. Reilly, the diocese victim advocate, said names were not sought for the report.
"It's supposed to be a confidential report. They did not want names," she said.
Reilly did say all the information in the report, including the names of the offending priests, has been turned over to the law enforcement officials.
The report, covering the period from 1950 through May, states that 30 priests were accused of sexual abuse and that three were exonerated and five cases remained unsolved by the end of the review period. The data was then submitted to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The college is overseeing the national study.
The report states that 60 of the victims were male and most - 43 of the 70 - were between 11 and 14 years of age. The total number of diocesan priests during the study period was 1,003, meaning the 16 offenders comprised 1.6 percent of the population of priests.
Six of the offenders were priests from outside the area who were serving in the diocese.
According to the report, four of the abusive priests have died.
The Republican has reported that in 2002 Dupre removed five priests from ministry after sexual abuse accusations were found to be credible: the Revs. John A. Koonz, Edward M. Kennedy, Richard F. Meehan, Alfred C. Graves and the late Donald V. Dube. The Rev. Ronald Malboeuf was voluntarily defrocked in 1989.
The study was prepared by the Office of the Chancellor using information from diocesan files. Additional information was provided by diocesan lawyers and the diocesan Review Board.
Clohessy said there are still "dozens and dozens and dozens" of victims who have yet to come forward.
"I think that both history and common sense would support that," Clohessy added, explaining that the report is a self-survey by the diocese.
The report also states that 10 abusive priests had one credible allegation leveled against them; eight had two; two had three credible allegations brought against them; one had four allegations made against him; and 35 credible allegations were made against Richard R. Lavigne.
Lavigne was convicted in 1992 of two counts of child molestation and sentenced to 10 years probation. He also was the only suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of Springfield altar boy Daniel Croteau.
Lavigne was defrocked last year.
By Adam Gorlick
Church officials say they determined that eight of the allegations were not credible, and six of the accused priests were under the supervision of religious orders outside the diocese.
The report was released a week after former Bishop Thomas Dupre retired amid allegations that he molested two boys while he was a parish priest in the 1970s and 1980s. Church officials have said they were unaware of the claims against Dupre while the report was being compiled.
The information is part of a nationwide accounting of abuse claims compiled by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice. CNN this week reported that 4,450 of the 110,000 U.S. clergy who served since 1950 have been accused of molesting minors. The draft report also said 11,000 abuse claims have been filed against the clergy during that period, according to CNN.
Those figures are higher than previously estimated by some victims' groups, the media and church officials. Researchers who conducted the national survey on Tuesday said the draft was incomplete.
The final report is due to be released Feb. 27 by the National Review Board, the lay watchdog panel the bishops formed in response to the molestation crisis.
"There can be no greater sadness than failing our children," Springfield Monsignor Richard Sniezyk wrote in a letter introducing the report, published Friday in The Catholic Observer. "We, as a church, have failed our children and this has been acknowledged by the U.S. bishops."
According to the study, 1.6 percent of the 1,003 diocesan priests who served during the 50-year period faced credible accusations of abuse.
The last reported abuse incident was in 1993, and half of the 70 people who say they were abused claimed to have been abused by a single priest.
Former priest Richard Lavigne, who was recently defrocked by the Vatican, pleaded guilty in 1992 to molesting two altar boys in parishes in western Massachusetts.
In the 1990s, the diocese settled lawsuits for $1.4 million with 17 men who accused Lavigne of abusing them as children. Within the past two years, at least 15 other people have filed lawsuits accusing Lavigne of abuse.
The diocese has been named in more than 30 lawsuits by people who say
they were abused by priests.
The report issued yesterday by the Springfield Diocese is part of a nationwide study of the scope and cause of sexual abuse by priests that is scheduled for release Friday in Washington. Officials of the Springfield Diocese released the report a week after Bishop Thomas L. Dupre resigned after being confronted with allegations that he had sexually abused two boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The report found that 30 priests from the diocese had been accused of abusing 70 minors over the last 50 years and that 16 of those accusations were credible. Officials in the Fall River Diocese released figures yesterday saying there were allegations against 32 of 1,353 priests, or 2.4 percent. A leaked draft of the nationwide report suggested that 4 percent of priests have been accused.
Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates called the Springfield report worthless, saying they did not trust the diocese to report truthfully about the extent of sexual abuse by its priests.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., the Boston lawyer who represents two men who say Dupre abused them when they were boys, said Springfield's figures "are ridiculously low."
"I don't accept their credibility, nor do I believe this represents even a fraction of the people who have been abused in the Springfield Diocese," MacLeish said. "The data is only as good as the people supplying it, and look who was providing it."
Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said he, too, was not convinced of the veracity of the report's conclusions, because there is evidence that Dupre withheld incriminating information from the district attorney's office and because other priests accused of sexually abusing minors have held record-keeping positions in the diocese.
"In light of the recent allegations, legitimate questions have to be asked whether or not the information provided thus far is reliable," said Bennett, whose office is investigating the allegations of sexual abuse against Dupre.
Asked if his office were considering obtaining a warrant and searching the diocese records, Bennett replied, "We're proceeding, but I can't go into the specifics of that." He declined to elaborate.
Bennett's investigators are expected to meet Tuesday with one of the two men who say that Dupre initiated sex with them when one of was 12 and the other was 15. The two say Dupre plied them with wine and cognac before sex, showed them gay pornography, and agreed to accept his appointment as bishop only after they promised never to reveal the nature of their relationship.
While it appears that Dupre violated state law that mandates that he turn over to civil authorities any allegation of child sexual abuse -- a letter that the mother of one of his alleged victims said she sent to him last year -- Bennett said it was unclear whether there is a Fifth Amendment exclusion because the allegation was against Dupre.
Mark E. Dupont, a diocesan spokesman, said a diocese official searched for the mother's letter in diocesan files last week, but could not find it or any other document that contained incriminating information against Dupre.
The diocese has been asked by Bennett's office "not to go through the bishop's private files," Dupont said. "They didn't say why."
He defended yesterday's report, insisting that Dupre "did not have a direct hand in preparing this report." For the report's data to be inaccurate, he said, "it would have had to be a conspiracy on many levels that doesn't seem probable."
But many victims and their advocates believe there was a conspiracy among Dupre and other compromised priests, some of whom he put in sensitive positions and others they say he coddled.
The most notorious of those priests was Richard R. Lavigne, who was convicted of molesting boys in 1992 and is a suspect in the 1972 murder of a 13-year-old Springfield altar boy, Daniel Croteau. Despite Lavigne's record, Dupre did not defrock him until last year. Allegations about Lavigne accounted for half the accusations against diocesan priests in the last 50 years, according to the report.
Bennett said he is concerned because so much of the information his office has relied on in deciding to investigate or prosecute sexual abuse by priests or diocesan employees was supplied by Dupre since the clergy sexual abuse scandal ignited in the winter of 2002.
Bennett said he is also concerned that Dupre put a priest -- the Rev. Richard J. Meehan, who had been removed from ministry for sexual abuse -- in charge of diocesan archives. In a deposition last year, the diocese's keeper of records, the Rev. Daniel Liston, said that Meehan had thrown out some records, but that Liston wasn't sure what the records were.
During a separate deposition last September, Dupre denied under oath that he had said one of his predecessors, the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, had destroyed incriminating records, but acknowledged putting Meehan in charge of reorganizing the diocesan archives four years ago. Dupre also said the late executor of Weldon's estate, Monsignor David P. Welch, had destroyed some of Weldon's personal papers. Two weeks ago, a 65-year-old man filed a claim with the diocese saying that Welch sexually abused him in the early 1950s.
The Rev. James J. Scahill, a priest who accused Dupre of protecting abusers like Lavigne and accused Dupre of saying Weldon had destroyed records, said Dupre and other sexually abusive priests were alternately covering for and threatening each other, creating a cycle of coverup in which victims were an afterthought.
"There was a pattern of concealment here," Scahill said yesterday. "They have destroyed records. And they have destroyed souls. They have no credibility."
John J. Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer who represents 40 clients with 21 pending cases against the diocese, said questions about the integrity of records goes well beyond Dupre.
"There was a cabal of abusers here," he said. "You have to connect the dots."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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