MassLive.com/The Republican [Springfield MA]
May 26, 2021
By Anne-Gerard Flynn
In a letter to parishioners, churches and parochial schools in his diocese, Springfield Bishop William Byrne said the updated list of credibly accused sexual abusers that the diocese will post in early June “will result in considerable addition to the list.”
“The new list will now include posthumous allegations deemed to be credible by either the Diocesan Review Board or its predecessor, the Misconduct Commission,” Byrne said. “This will result in a considerable addition to the list which previously appeared on our diocesan website. Many of these credible allegations were previously excluded from our list because the accused was deceased when the allegation surfaced, was a member of a religious order, or were lay employees of the diocese.”
The bishop’s letter is dated Monday, May 24, the same day that the Hampden District Attorney’s Office revealed it had planned to charge convicted child molester and former priest Richard R. Lavigne, who died Friday, in the 1972 slaying of altar boy Danny Croteau.
In his letter, Byrne notes that an allegation is “deemed to be credible if there is reasonable cause to believe that the sexual abuse occurred.”
“It is most similar to a grand jury indictment in our legal system,” Byrne said. “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.”
Byrne had announced at the time of his installation as bishop in December that he would update the list on the diocesan website, something long requested by both survivors and their lawyers.
In the letter, Byrne stated the diocese is “expanding its criteria for disclosure of all those with a finding of credibility of sexual abuse of a minor while serving in the diocese.”
He says in the letter that the diocesan Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance “conducted a thorough review of all cases to assure we were applying the same standard for names now being listed” and that to ensure the process was “rigorous and consistent” an “independent review” was conducted by Raina Lamande, a forensic psychologist at the doctorate level at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.
Byrne, who has met with survivors and who offers a “most sincere apology” in the letter to “all who have suffered from the abuse and their families,” calls the expanded disclosure “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,” Byrne 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 letter includes an invitation from Byrne to “join me Thursday, June 3, at 7 p.m. at St. Michael’s for a Holy Hour for all those whose lives have been impact by the abuse crisis.” He also urges parishes to hold “similar devotional services.”
“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 in the letter. “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.”
During the last year-and-a-half the diocese has taken a number of steps to reform how it handles clergy sexual abuse allegation. It has been named in a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of survivor whose allegations of sexual abuse by the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon were found credible.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced on Monday that his office had been preparing to charge Lavigne with the 1972 murder of Croteau on the basis of a recent investigation and interviews with Lavigne. Lavigne died on May 21 and Gulluni said the criminal case is now closed.
Advocates and lawyers who represented those with allegations of sexual abuse as minors against Lavigne have called for further investigation into diocesan procedures.
The diocese has settled more than 150 abuse claims and paid out more than $15 million.