FALL RIVER (MA)
WJAR-TV, NBC-10 [Providence RI]
November 23, 2021
By Tyler Dumont
[Photo above: Survivor Richard Eldridge speaks at the chancery of the Diocese of Fall River. Still from video, which is included in this report.]
An alleged victim of clergy sex abuse is sharing his story publicly in the hope that the Diocese of Fall River will settle his legal claim.
Richard Eldridge alleges he was sexually abused in the early 1970s by Rev. Edward J. Byington while Byington was assigned as pastor at a Fall River parish.
At a press conference held Tuesday outside the diocese’s headquarters, Eldridge said the alleged sexual abuse occurred in a convent, occupied by nuns, following a retreat he attended while in high school.
“They tried to block the stairs and not let us go upstairs, and so it was clear that they knew what he was up to,” Eldridge said. “We got upstairs and he started his stuff.”
Eldridge said over the decades since, the alleged abuse has caused him to suffer from emotional distress.
“Self-confidence. Depression. I have nightmares,” he said. “I’m tired of waiting for justice. I’m really tired of waiting for justice.”
Eldrige’s attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, said the Diocese of Fall River has indicated they are reconsidering Eldridge’s claim after a second victim, so far known only as a John Doe, recently came forward.
Garabedian said he first brought Eldridge’s claim of abuse before the diocese 10 years ago.
Robert Hoatson, cofounder a nonprofit that aids victim of sex abuse, stood with Eldridge at the Tuesday press conference.
“The diocese is still stalling and delaying the settlement of these two men,” said Hoatson. “We want Bishop da Cunha to get this review board to find John Doe – the second victim – credible and allow Richard Eldrige and John Doe to begin their healing process.”
Eldrige said he was 16 or 17 years old when the alleged abuse occurred.
NBC 10 News reported in January of last year that the diocese had suspended Byington after accusations were made against him and that Byington had denied the allegations. At the time, the allegations were also under investigation by law enforcement.
Byington retired in 2006.
The Diocese of Fall River declined to comment on Eldridge’s allegations and demands for a settlement made Tuesday.
However, diocese spokesperson John Kearns said current programs in place have strengthened child protection efforts and that the church encourages any victims of abuse to contact authorities.