Diocese of Springfield to update list of credibly accused sexual abusers

The Berkshire Eagle [Pittsfield MA]

May 26, 2021

By Danny Jin

The Diocese of Springfield will expand its list of clergy and staff credibly accused of sexual abuse, its bishop said in a Monday letter.

Those accused posthumously, as well as religious order priests and lay employees of the diocese, will now be included, the Most. Rev. William Byrne said in the letter. The new additions are not necessarily newly accused, but rather were accused decades ago and previously excluded from the list.

The updated list will be posted to diospringfield.org in early June, Byrne’s letter said. Byrne will hold a news conference on the expansion on June 2 at 10 a.m. in Springfield’s St. Michael’s Cathedral, and the cathedral will also host a Holy Hour “for all whose lives have been impacted by the abuse crisis” on June 3 at 7 p.m.

Upon hearing feedback from survivors and others who criticized the diocese for its handling of the abuse, Byrne said he is “fully committed to doing all that I can to change the culture of the diocese.”

“In recent months I have met with many survivors and family members,” he said. “I have heard from these courageous individuals that the way the diocese responded to their reports of abuse was re-traumatizing and re-victimizing. As your bishop, please accept my sincere apology and my commitment towards working to regain your trust.”

Disclosing additional names, Byrne said, is “a necessary action as part of fulfilling my commitment of transparency and healing.”

“We owe this to the courageous survivors and their loved ones who have suffered the unimaginable pain of sexual abuse,” he said. “We owe this to our Catholic community left devastated and disillusioned by this scourge. We owe this also to the many faithful priests who serve with great devotion.”

The Springfield diocese has taken some steps in the past year to increase transparency in what many say has been a typically closed process controlled by the Catholic Church.

A Chicopee man has filed a lawsuit alleging current and former officials within the diocese, including former Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, participated in a cover-up to protect the reputation of the late Bishop Christopher Weldon. A retired judge last year found a former altar boy’s accusation of rape against Weldon “unequivocally credible.”

Byrne’s letter is dated the same day that Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced that his office had been preparing to charge convicted child molester and former priest Richard Lavigne for the 1972 murder of Danny Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy. Lavigne died Friday, and Gulluni said the case is now closed.

The posthumous allegations to be added to the list were found to be credible by either the Diocesan Review Board or its predecessor, the Misconduct Commission. Allegations are found to be credible “if there is reasonable cause to believe that the sexual abuse occurred,” Byrne said, making a comparison to a grand jury indictment.

“While it is not a definitive finding of guilt, the public acknowledgement of those credible allegations is a critically important action that the diocese owes to those survivors who have so courageously stepped forward,” he said.

Byrne encouraged people who have survived sexual abuse “by clergy or any personnel of the diocese” to report their experience to law enforcement as well as to the diocese through the Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance at 413-452-0624, its confidential toll-free number at 800-842-9055, or reportabuse@diospringfield.org.

“I pray fervently first and foremost for all survivors of sexual abuse, living and deceased, whose burden no person should ever have to bear,” Byrne said. “I also ask for God’s forgiveness of our Church’s past failures and that God will guide us in our continued resolve to effect the actions necessary for healing and the determination to bring about meaningful and sustainable change.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com,

@djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.