After 10 years of sex abuse claims, Fall River accuser speaks about priest’s ouster

WJAR-TV, NBC-10 [Providence RI]

December 14, 2021

By Kelly O'Neill

 Three more Catholic priests in Bristol County, Massachusetts, were banned from the ministry after church leaders found allegations of child sex abuse to be credible.

One accuser spoke publicly after what he called a 10-year battle with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River.

Richard Eldridge said the sexual abuse started in the early 1970s when he was about 16 years old, following a Catholic retreat he attended while in high school where the nuns tried to block the staircase.

“They were trying to protect me — and he pushed his way through and brought me upstairs,” he said. “I don’t want any other kids to end up in this situation and go through what I went through.”

His alleged abuser, the Rev. Edward Byington, was assigned to various parishes in Bristol County, including: St. John, Attleboro; Sacred Heart, Taunton; St. Patrick, Fall River; St. Paul, Taunton; St. George, Westport; Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Seekonk; Girl Scouts of America, Attleboro Area; Sacred Heart, Fall River; St. Francis, Hyannis; and St. Thomas More, Somerset.

The Diocese of Fall River on Monday announced Byington and two other priests, the Revs. James Buckley and Richard Degagne, were added to the list of credibly accused clergy.

Buckley was assigned to St. Mary Cathedral, Fall River; Sacred Heart, Fall River; Immaculate Conception, Fall River; St. Joan of Arc, Orleans; St. Augustine, Vineyard Haven; St. Margaret, Buzzards Bay; and Holy Redeemer, Chatham.

Degagne was assigned to St. John, Attleboro; Holy Name, Fall River; St. Anthony of Padua, New Bedford; Notre Dame, Fall River; Sacred Heart, North Attleborough; Immaculate Conception, Taunton; St. John Neumann, East Freetown; and Immaculate Conception, North Easton.

All three of them had been suspended and they deny the allegations.

None of them will return to ministry in any capacity.

“Diocese after diocese after diocese continue to put these people on hold. By putting them on hold what they do is — keep the memories and the trauma and the post-traumatic stress disorder in the front of the lives of all of these people. It has to stop,” said Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery, a non-profit charity that assists victims of sexual abuse.

In a statement, the Diocese of Fall River said it followed its protocols including notifying civil authorities, conducting its own investigations, and bringing the cases to the Ministerial Review Board.

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

“The question remains, where were the supervisors of the Diocese of Fall River? Why didn’t they protect innocent children from being sexually abused repeatedly over the course of decades?” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian. “The Catholic church needs to be held accountable.”

The diocese also said it has a Victim Assistance Outreach program offering services for victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families, but Eldridge said he was never offered any help.

“I want to be financially compensated by the diocese for the agony they have been putting me through, for the depression they have put me through and documented in the primary care,” he said.

Garabedian said they are set to discuss a financial settlement in January.

A spokesperson for da Cuhna declined an interview with NBC 10 News on Tuesday.