‘I want justice:’ Clergy sex abuse survivor calls on Fall River Diocese to provide ‘substantial settlement’

The Republican - MassLive [Springfield MA]

April 16, 2022

By Kiernan Dunlop

Richard Eldridge stood outside of the Diocese of Fall River’s Chancery office Wednesday demanding a “substantial settlement” for abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of Father Edward J. Byington.

Byington was one of two priests suspended by the diocese in January 2020 due to separate allegations of sexual abuse of a minor going back several decades, The Standard-Times reported.

In a statement posted to its website in December 2021, the diocese announced the allegations against Byington “have been determined to be credible” and he would not return to ministry.

At the time of his suspension, Byington was already retired and not assigned to a parish.

Eldridge, 67, told MassLive that when he was 15 or 16 years old, even though he was protestant, he attended the Roman Catholic ECHO (Encountering Christ in Others) retreat because his friends were going. He met Byington while he was there.

The Standard-Times reported the abuse happened in 1971.

The weekend retreat is open to high school juniors and seniors looking to “deepen their faith and enhance their relationship with Jesus,” according to the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation website.

Byington made Eldridge go to confession and talk about his sexual experiences, according to Eldridge.

“I think he just kind of decided … ’he’s not Catholic, I can take advantage of this kid’,” Eldridge said

Byington called Eldridge’s parents and told them he would drive Eldridge home from the retreat, Eldridge said, but instead he drove him to the rectory of Sacred Heart Church in Taunton where he took him upstairs.

Eldridge said Byington sexually abused him two or three times.

While he was standing outside of the Chancery building Wednesday, Eldridge said he’s glad the abuse Byington perpetrated is being recognized, but what the church has offered him in terms of a settlement “adds insult to injury.”

“I want justice, that’s what I want,” Eldridge said, “I want a substantial settlement.”

A previous settlement Eldridge said the diocese offered him made him really angry.

“I mean, who do they think they are?” Eldridge questioned.

MassLive reached out to the Diocese of Fall River about the settlement discussions and spokesperson John Kearns said, “The Diocese of Fall River does not comment on the specifics of any claim.”

Eldridge’s attorney Mitchell Garabedian sent out a statement calling on the diocese and Bishop Edgar da Cunha to “act responsibly by validating the childhood sexual abuse claim of Richard Eldridge through a reasonable financial settlement.”

The settlement will help Eldridge “to move on, try to heal and prevent the further revictimization of Richard Eldridge,” Garabedian said.

Eldridge wasn’t alone in his protest Wednesday, Robert Hoatson, a former priest of 11 years who now runs Road to Recovery, Inc., also participated.

“I’ve been with Richard each time we’ve been (at the diocese protesting) and the fact that he can remain as positive and as resilient as he is, is a miracle,” Hoatson told MassLive, “And these folks have to be held accountable for what … happened to him and it’s just outrageous what they do to these victims.”