New Bedford priest accused of sex abuse files defamation suit against Fall River Diocese

Standard-Times - SouthCoastToday [New Bedford MA]

March 2, 2021

By Anastasia E. Lennon

A New Bedford priest accused of sexually abusing a minor has filed a defamation suit against the Bishop of the Diocese of Fall River.

Daniel Lacroix, 61, was placed on administrative leave for alleged misconduct in November2019. At the time, he was serving as co-pastor at three North End churches — St. Joseph-St. Therese, St. Mary, and Our Lady of Fatima Parishes.

A Ministerial Review Board in November 2020 determined the allegations of sexual abuse of a minor were credible and subsequently removed Lacroix permanently from ministry.

On Feb. 29, Lacroix filed the lawsuit seeking relief from the Fall River Diocese Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, who he says “substantially and irreparably” harmed his reputation.

According to a press release from Lacroix’s attorney, Philip Beauregard, the removed pastoris not seeking compensation for monetary losses; he is instead seeking vindication and a declaratory judgment that he did not engage in the alleged misconduct.

“My client has been viciously slandered, and his entire life and career have been put on hold, all without any measure of due process,” Beauregard said in the statement. “Father Lacroix’s repeated appeals to the defendant and the diocese have been met with apathy and silence, and meanwhile, he has been denied his vocation, his livelihood, and his reputation. This lawsuit is intended to give him the opportunity to prove his innocence to these heinous charges.”

The Standard-Times’ contacted Beauregard to get comment from Lacroix, but they did not respond.

Alleged abuse in 1990s

According to the diocese, the alleged misconduct came to light after the church implemented new reforms in 2017 that instituted an external review process.

“This comes as a result of information gathered during an external review of the Diocese’s personnel files,” a previous press release stated. “The information relates to alleged misconduct, said to have occurred decades ago, that requires further investigation.”

A heavily redacted investigative report from the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office, which The Standard-Times obtained in December 2020, states the victim was born in 1970.According to other dates in the report, Lacroix would have been 26 years old when the alleged abuse started, and 32 or 33 years old at the time of the last incident. The victim would have been 15 years old when the alleged abuse started, and 21 or 22 years old at the time of the last incident.

Beauregard previously told the Standard-Times Lacroix was acting as a camp counselor while he was in the seminary and that the individual that made the allegations was a camper.

As far as any relationship between the two, the attorney said it was nothing other than that ofa camp counselor and camper.

Bristol County District Attorney spokesperson Gregg Miliote said in an email when Lacroix was first removed that the district attorney’s office received and “thoroughly” reviewed the matter, but was unable to bring any charges as the statue of limitations had expired.

Lacroix suing for libel

In the three-page complaint, Lacroix claims libel — the written form of defamation.

The complaint states two investigations undertaken by da Cunha’s predecessor resulted in exoneration, and that Lacroix offered to take a lie detector test, but da Cunha “ignored” the offer.

It also states that when communicating with the media, da Cunha failed to include thatLacroix denies the allegations.

In the final point, the complaint states the Fall River bishop has a “bias and predisposition “from serving as a priest and bishop in New Jersey, where he “had an association” with a cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, who was eventually terminated for sexual misconduct.

Lacroix has denied the allegations since he was first placed on leave. He previously told The Standard-Times he thought the misconduct allegations were “possibly a case of mistaken identity.”

An unredacted portion of the report suggests Lacroix knew the victim for several years and co-signed a loan for him.

Beauregard previously told The Standard-Times that Lacroix’s best explanation is still mistaken identity, and that there was another priest or seminarian that worked at the same camp, “who has since been alleged and found to have committed sexual misconduct and floated away from the priesthood and area.”

The attorney did not name the priest and The Standard-Times did not find references to the St. Vincent De Paul camp and misconduct.

Da Cunha, reached for comment through the Fall River Diocese communications office, did not directly respond. The office instead provided a statement, which in part reiterated previous statements about their investigation.

The statement said the diocese “noted” Lacroix denied the accusations when placed on leave in 2019, and that da Cunha’s service in a New Jersey parish while McCarrick was the archbishop is unrelated to this matter.

“Father Lacroix’s name appears on the list of Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse of a Minor in the Diocese of Fall River as a result of a fair and thorough review of the allegations conducted by numerous experts,” the diocese statement said.

According to Beauregard, a bishop and diocese under Massachusetts law cannot “normally” be held liable for defamation of a priest. However, he hopes the state will “allow some form of relief” to Lacroix, he wrote.

“Essentially, the defendant in this case is serving as judge, jury, and executioner to Father Lacroix,” Beauregard wrote.

Lacroix is seeking a jury trial, according to the case docket.