FALL RIVER (MA)
Standard-Times - SouthCoastToday [New Bedford MA]
May 9, 2023
By Frank Mulligan
New Bedford MA – A civil lawsuit brought by a man alleging he was sexually abused by a former New Bedford priest when he was an altar boy over 30 years ago has been settled “in the low to mid six figures,” according to the plaintiff’s attorney.
Jason Medeiros was a former altar boy at St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, and participated in a Catholic youth group. Both were supervised by Father Richard Degagne, according to a press release issued by Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian.
The lawsuit alleged that Degagne sexually abused Medeiros on multiple occasions in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine in approximately 1988 and 1989 when he was about 12 and 13 years old. The abuse allegedly occurred over two years.
Degagne has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
Medeiros said, “I didn’t come forward until my 40s, and the reason was I couldn’t comprehend or make sense of what had happened for the longest time. I blamed myself.”
He added, “But at the end of the day, it wasn’t my fault. It’s none of our faults. When I say it’s none of our faults, I speak for all survivors out there.”
Clean and sober for years now, Medeiros said he held the trauma within by abusing drugs and alcohol. “If I didn’t come forward, I don’t know if I’d be around today.”
What also “shook him to the core,” he said, was when he was browsing TV channels one day and came across the 2015 movie, “Spotlight,” which tells the story of the Father John Geoghan child molestation case in Boston. Garabedian is played by actor Stanley Tucci in the film.
“I was married at the time and I just started crying throughout the whole movie,” he said.
He said victims need to come forward. “There are people out there to help.”
The abuse allegedly occurred in the rectory of St. Padua Church, in Degagne’s car, and during an overnight trip to Maine.
Degagne was one of the priests whose “credible accusation” of child abuse was substantiated by the Fall River Diocese in December 2021, according to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
In 2019, the diocese announced it was reviewing all of its records related to the abuse or allegations of abuse of a minor. As a result of the review, the diocese released a list of 78 clergy members who have been credibly or publicly accused of sexual abuse.
The diocese independently reviewed facts related to the alleged abuse and received recommendations from a review board created by the diocese to analyze accusations of abuse made against local clergy members.Where the allegations were found credible, the priests were informed that they would not be returning to ministry.
The diocese stated at the time, “They are not 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.”
Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha stated in making the review’s results public in 2021, “The scourge of clergy sexual abuse has deeply wounded so many people in our Church. It has touched every diocese worldwide and continues to affect us all – laity and clergy – in significant ways. Today, it is with a contrite heart and commitment to the healing process that I have published a list of clergy, diocesan and religious related to the Diocese of Fall River who have been credibly or publicly accused of committing sexual abuse of a minor.”
Degagne, who was ordained in 1982 and is now in his late 60s, was working at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford from around 1986 until 1991.
Degagne also worked at Holy Name and Notre Dame in Fall River
Degagne also worked at St. John in Attleboro, Holy Name in Fall River, St. Anthony of Padua in New Bedford, Notre Dame in Fall River, Sacred Heart in North Attleboro, Immaculate Conception in Taunton, St. John Neumann in East Freetown and Immaculate Conception in North Easton.
The three-count lawsuit had sought a jury trial to determine damages, plus award costs and attorneys’ fees, for mental distress and emotional injuries.
Garabedian is internationally recognized for his work and advocacy on behalf of victims and survivors of sexual abuse, including for his work in the Boston clergy sexual abuse cases that led to Geoghan’s successful prosecution in 2002.
Fall River Diocese response
Asked for comment, the Fall River Diocese issued the following statement, “In December 2021, the Diocese of Fall River announced that an allegation made against Father Richard E. Degagne was determined to be credible and that his name was added to the list of ‘Credibly Accused’ clergy on the Diocesan website.
“The Diocese moves forward as quickly as possible in the process to bring a resolution to claims of abuse. The decision to comment on a settlement is left to the victim-survivor, who is not bound by confidentiality.
“Through its Victim Assistance outreach, the Diocese of Fall River offers supportive services to survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families throughout the legal process and continuing after a conclusion is reached. For assistance, please contact Carolyn Shipp, the Director of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance at 508-985-6508 (confidential voicemail) or firstname.lastname@example.org.”