Lavigne's Status Raises Questions

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Republican
December 19, 2003's_status_raises_questions.htm

SPRINGFIELD - Andre P. Tessier, who said as a child he was abused by the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, said he doesn't understand why Lavigne remains a priest a year after the head of the Catholic church here announced he was seeking the cleric's defrocking.

"Considering what he has been accused of, it seems like it is an open and shut case," said Tessier, who is one of more than 30 people to accuse Lavigne of abusing them when they were minors.

The Vatican has yet to decide whether Chicopee resident Lavigne should lose his status as a priest even though it's been more than a decade since officials of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield stripped him of his right to present himself publicly as a cleric.

While some are puzzled that Lavigne remains a priest, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said last week he is not surprised the Vatican hasn't announced anything yet. "Just as in our own American legal system, there is a great emphasis in church law on due process to protect the rights of all parties involved, as well as a thorough and fair review of all relevant fact," Dupre said in a statement.

When Dupre said last December he was seeking Lavigne's defrocking, he said it was being done through a new streamlined laicization process that U.S. bishops created last year.

Although the bishop announced his intentions to seek Lavigne's defrocking in December, the Vatican didn't begin acting on the new laicization process until March.

In May, an ecclesiastical judicial hearing regarding Lavigne's defrocking was conducted in the diocesan chancellery. Results were sent to the Vatican.

The inaction regarding Lavigne has puzzled the Rev. James J. Scahill, the East Longmeadow priest whose St. Michael's parish has been protesting for 18 months the continued financial support of Lavigne by the diocese. The parish has been withholding from the bishop's office weekly collection funds.

Scahill said the bishop could be more aggressive in his pursuit of the laicization, but he is encouraged by corrective measures regarding Lavigne and other priests accused of sexual abuse.

"St. Michael's parish has not lost its resolve. We continue to call for Lavigne's laicization and remain opposed to the diocese's connection to him receiving a monthly stipend and other benefits," Scahill said.

Scahill said he is pleased the bishop seems poised to take Scahill's suggestion of creating a voluntary fund to help support Lavigne and such priests.

In a diocesan televised program two months ago, Dupre said he was considering creating a fund in which donors could contribute to a fund that helped support sexually abusive priests.

Scahill said parishioners throughout the diocese are currently contributing to Lavigne and other priests' support through weekly parish donations.

"If the fund is established, it would be the first time in 11 years that Lavigne's support would truly be charitable. There is no charity if there is no free will in giving," Scahill said.

Lavigne receives a monthly stipend of $1,030 and fully-paid health and dental benefits.

Lavigne was convicted of two child molestation charges in 1992. Several years later the diocese settled suits with 17 alleged sexual abuse victims for $1.4 million.

Lavigne is the only publicly identified suspect in the 1972 murder of Springfield altar boy Daniel Croteau.

Earlier this year, Lavigne was classified by the state as a sex offender with a high risk of committing another crime. There are at least 13 pending suits filed against Lavigne accusing him of sexual abuse of a minor.

Other diocesan priests who have been removed from ministry are the Revs. John A. Koonz, Edward M. Kennedy, Richard F. Meehan, Alfred C. Graves and Donald V. Dube, who died this week.

The Rev. Francis Lavell, left his position as pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Longmeadow after two suits accusing him of sexual abuse were filed against him in 2002. Lavell has denied any wrongdoing.


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