Abuse charges against two clergy with Attleboro area ties found credible

The Sun Chronicle [Attleboro MA]

December 13, 2021

By Stephen Peterson

Allegations of sexual abuse of a minor made against three suspended priests, two of whom have Attleboro area ties, have been determined to be credible, and none will return to ministry, the Fall River Diocese announced Monday.

Edward J. Byington, Richard E. Degagne and James F. Buckley have been added to the list of “credibly accused” clergy on the diocese’s website, fallriverdiocese.org.

Byington once served at St. John’s the Evangelist in Attleboro and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Seekonk in addition to working with the Attleboro Area Girl Scouts of America, according to the diocese.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian in 2020 said he represented a client who was allegedly assaulted by Byington in a church rectory in Taunton after the client attended a religious retreat for teens in 1971.

Degagne was the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Easton and previously served at St. John the Evangelist in Attleboro and Sacred Heart Church in North Attleboro, according to the diocese.

He was suspended in 2019 over alleged misconduct said to have occurred decades ago and before he was a priest.

Byington and Buckley were suspended in 2020. Both were retired at the time and not assigned to a parish, but had assisted with the celebration of Masses in various parishes since their retirements.

All three priests have denied the allegations, the diocese said.

Degagne, ordained in 1982, also had assignments at Holy Name in Fall River, St. Anthony in New Bedford, Notre Dame in Fall River, Immaculate Conception in Taunton, and St. John in East Freetown.

Byington, ordained in 1970, had previous assignments at Sacred Heart Parish, Fall River; Sacred Heart Parish, Taunton; St. Patrick Parish, Fall River; St. Paul Parish, Taunton; St. George Parish, Westport; Sacred Heart Parish, Fall River; St. Francis of Xavier Parish, Hyannis; and St. Thomas More Parish, Somerset. He retired in 2006, according to the diocese.

Buckley, who was ordained in 1959, has had assignments at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Fall River; Sacred Heart Parish, Fall River; Immaculate Conception Parish, North Easton; St. Joan of Arc Parish, Orleans; St. Augustine Parish, Vineyard Haven; St. Margaret Parish, Buzzards Bay, and Holy Redeemer Parish, Chatham, until his 2001 retirement.

Before making any determination in these cases, the diocese said it followed its protocols including notifying civil authorities, conducting its own investigations, and bringing the cases to the Ministerial Review Board. The review board serves as an independent and consultative body to advise the bishop on alleged misconduct by clergy.

After reviewing all of the facts and receiving the recommendations of the Ministerial Review Board in each case, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha determined the allegations are credible and has informed all three priests they would not be returning to ministry, diocese officials said.

“My prayers remain with any and all who have suffered sexual abuse by clergy, especially as a minor,” da Cunha said. “Their pain is real and long-lasting, and perpetrators must be held accountable.”

The priests aren’t permitted to exercise any public ministry including the celebration of public Mass or of other sacraments. They may not provide spiritual direction, may not wear clerical attire, or present themselves as priests.

Diocese policies state an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is determined to be credible when it has a “semblance of truth” under canon law, using a standard of proof approximating probable cause, and when it conforms to the definition of sexual abuse of a minor as outlined in those policies. Diocese policies and the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People require an offending cleric be prohibited from ministry and his faculties withdrawn.

Over two dozen priests who served in the Attleboro area were among 75 clergy whose names were released by the Fall River Diocese last January as having been credibly or publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Of the 650 priests who have served as a Fall River Diocese priest since its founding in 1904, 47 have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Through its Victim Assistance Outreach, the Fall River Diocese offers supportive services to victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families as well as to members of parishes impacted by these cases.

For assistance, contact Carolyn Shipp, the director of safe environment and victim assistance coordinator, at 508-985-6508 (confidential voicemail) or cshipp@dioc-fr.org.