Allegations Lead to Priest's Retirement

By Beatrice O'Quinn
[Springfield MA] Union-News
December 23, 1993

The Rev. Donald A. Desilets has been forced into early retirement and had his powers as a Catholic priest restricted following a diocesan investigation into two separate allegations of sexual misconduct. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield confirmed that Desilets had been asked to retire, had been asked to join the Sulpician Fathers, a Canadian order, and had been banned from holding a position that would put him in contact with young boys.

Desilets, 69, was a parish priest at St. Aloysius of Gonzaga Church in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield until his retirement in October.

2 men make allegations

Two men have made separate allegations that Desilets molested them when he was a parish priest at the former Precious Blood Church in Holyoke.

The incidents were alleged to have occurred during the mid-1970s. Desilets has never been indicted on charges of molestation.

"He is not to function as a priest in our diocese as far as offer Mass or anything like that," the Rev. Richard Sniezyk, vicar for clergy, said yesterday. "The archbishop of Montreal and superior of the Sulpician community were given information with regard to the allegations of Father Desilets. He is restricted not to be in any kind of position in contact with young boys."

Desilets, who taught at the Grand Seminary in Montreal for three years, signed a contract in 1982 with the Sulpician Fathers to live and work in that community upon his retirement, Sniezyk said. The Sulpician Fathers are a teaching order that trains young men to become priests and helps staff Catholic seminaries, Sniezyk said.

The Springfield diocese has been receiving monthly reports on Desilets from the order.

The two young men, whose identities were not released, went before the Commission for the Investigation of Improper Conduct of Diocesan Personnel earlier this year.

The nine-member commission, appointed by the diocese, is an independent body that investigates complaints of sexual misconduct by priests and recommends action to the bishop. The panel hears from the person making the allegation, from the accused person, from witnesses and from consultants. The diocese knows nothing of the commission's actions until a recommendation is made, Sniezyk said.

Sniezyk said he did not know if Desilets had confirmed or denied that he molested the two young men when asked by the commission.

Robert Van Wart, chairman of the commission, would not comment, saying that the commissioners took an oath of confidentiality on its investigations.

In April, the commission recommended to the bishop that Desilets undergo psychiatric and diagnostic tests at the Institute of Living in Hartford, a facility which treats sexual abuse victims and perpetrators, Sniezyk said.

He began treatment in June as an outpatient but was later admitted, Sniezyk said. Desilets remained at the facility through late August.

"On Aug. 26, the commission recommended that (Desilets) be granted early retirement and he return to Montreal with restrictions," Sniezyk said.

Sniezyk said the commission was not mandated to report the allegations to legal authorities because the criminal statute of limitations had expired.

Bishop John A. Marshall approved of the commission's recommendations, Sniezyk said.

Ordained into the priesthood in 1952, Desilets also served at Assumption Church in Chicopee, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Springfield from 1971 to 1972 and at St. Louis de France Church in West Springfield from 1972 to 1975. He went to Precious Blood in 1975.

The commission was appointed by Marshall last year after two separate charges of sexual molestation were made against priests in the diocese.

In June 1992, the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, former priest at St. Joseph's Church in Shelburne Falls, pleaded guilty to two counts of child molestation. Lavigne received no jail time for his conviction, but is on probation for 10 years. He also served seven months in St. Luke's Institute, a psychiatric hospital for sex offenders. He was banned by Bishop Marshall from serving as a parish priest in the Springfield diocese.

Fighting in court

In a separate case, Lavigne is fighting in court to prevent investigators from running DNA tests on blood samples taken in a search for a link to the 1972 slaying of altar boy Danny Croteau.

The priest was the prime suspect in the case at the time, police sources have said. He was never charged in the crime. The case has been reopened by the Hampden County district attorney's office.

Also during last year, the Rev. Gary LaMontagne, 39, former curate at St. Mary's Church in Westfield, admitted in court that he fondled a female employee in the rectory. He pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent assault and was sentenced to three years of probation. He is undergoing counseling.


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