Alleged Victim Tried to Protect Others

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Republican
October 11, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - When the Catholic Church's local Review Board determined Joseph Dougherty's allegation of sexual abuse against a priest was credible, the retired city personnel director believed justice was close at hand.

All he wanted from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield was an assurance that his alleged abuser would not have access to other children in local churches. He didn't want others to experience the shame, embarrassment and degradation that has haunted him.

But, more than two years after meeting with the panel, frustrated devout Catholic Dougherty is still looking for his measure of justice. His displeasure with the diocese, he said, has forced him into taking steps - filing suit and sharing his story with the media - that he hoped would be avoided.

"The diocese has turned the process into something that has made me feel as if I did something wrong," said Dougherty.

Dougherty said the Review Panel thanked him for telling them about his abuse, because other local children were at risk by his alleged abuser, the Rev. Andre A. Corbin, a convicted molester.

In June 2002, Dougherty told the diocesan panel that he was abused by Corbin when he was between 8 and 10 years old after meeting the priest at a family outing in Greater Springfield.

Corbin, a Palmer native who was then working as a diocesan priest in North Carolina, was home on a visit at the time of the abuse, Dougherty said. Corbin, who has been living in Palmer at least for the past several years, refused comment.

The Springfield diocese claims no responsibility for Corbin, saying the priest was never granted nor requested faculties to serve as a Catholic priest in the diocese. "He is not now, nor has he ever been a priest of our diocese and therefore has never been assigned to serve in any parish, or any other capacity, within this diocese," read a recent diocesan statement.

However, Dougherty said that at least one instance of abuse occurred when Corbin was working at least temporarily at Holy Name Parish in Springfield. He has a picture of Corbin at the altar celebrating Mass at the church as proof that he served within the diocese.

Also, Corbin stated in a 1997 alumni publication of St. Mary's Seminary and University of Baltimore that he was retired from the Springfield diocese. Corbin attended St. Mary's.

In at least two instances, Corbin initiated the alleged abuse of Dougherty by telling him he was preparing a play about Jesus Christ and needed to measure him for a crucifixion garment.

The scenario was eerily similar to what occurred to a Corbin sexual abuse victim who brought criminal charges against him in Asheville, N.C., in 1988. Corbin, who was directing a school play at the time, persuaded an eighth-grade student to disrobe by telling him he was looking for live models to depict the crucifixion of Christ in an Asheville store window display, according to a 1989 story in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Corbin pleaded guilty to molestation charges in Buncombe (N.C.) County Superior Court in 1989 and was sentenced to five years in jail. The judge suspended all but 60 days of the sentence.

Dougherty said he was thanked by the Review Panel for coming forward because they said Corbin was then about to fill in for a vacationing priest in the Berkshires.

"Panel members told me that his M.O. was to become friendly with a local priest and offer to say an occasional Mass and then offer to take the priest's place during a vacation," said Dougherty, who wasn't sure which parish Corbin was going to serve at temporarily.

When the panel found Dougherty's allegation credible and asked what he wanted out of the process, he told them he wanted then-Bishop Thomas L. Dupre to send a letter to all diocesan parishes warning them about Corbin.

He also asked for a copy of a letter that the panel told Dougherty the Springfield diocese received from the Diocese of Charlotte informing it of accusations of sexual abuse against Corbin. Dougherty wondered if the letter had been sent before he was abused more than 40 years ago.

After leading Dougherty to believe neither request would be a problem, the panel later told him they couldn't comply with either, according to Dougherty.

Requests to two panel members to comment about the matters went unanswered.

The Springfield diocese also refused to comment on the panel's work on the case.

Dupre, who resigned in February amid allegations he abused minors, was unavailable for comment. His whereabouts are unknown to diocesan officials as well as the general public.

The Republican learned recently that the Charlotte diocese sent the letter to the Springfield diocese in 1988.

Charlotte diocesan spokesman David W. Hains confirmed a letter was sent to the Springfield diocese. Hains said the Charlotte diocese stripped Corbin of priestly faculties and banned him from presenting himself publicly as a priest in 1988.

Unlike the Springfield diocese, the Charlotte diocese doesn't pay any stipends to priests removed from ministry for sexual abuse.

Hains added that Corbin had not served in the Charlotte diocese since 1972, but could not account for his whereabouts since then.

Gerard J. Moore of Greensboro, N.C., one of the two people who brought allegations of sexual abuse by Corbin to church officials, said Corbin befriended him when Moore was attending a pre-seminary high school near the parish where Corbin was assigned.

When Moore learned this year that Corbin had relocated to Palmer, he called the Springfield diocese to warn it of his alleged abuser.

Monsignor Richard Sniezyk told Moore in May that he and other diocesan officials didn't know Corbin, according to Moore. The Springfield diocese didn't comment on the matter even though by the time Moore called, Dougherty had met with the Review Board and had filed suit against the diocese.

Frustrated at the inaction of the diocesan panel and the bishop's refusal to present him with the two letters, Dougherty hired Springfield lawyer Raipher D. Pellegrino.

"I didn't want to hire a lawyer. I thought the church would have done the right thing for children," said Dougherty.

Dougherty at first filed a claim of abuse directly to diocesan lawyers through Pellegrino.

Again, he said he received no response.

"I didn't want to go public with a suit. I figured this could be handled privately," Dougherty said.

When it wasn't, Dougherty filed a lawsuit in December 2003.

"This isn't about money. It never has been. But when you go after the church's pocketbook, it seems to get the church's attention," Dougherty said.

Dougherty said the church has not answered letters and phone messages by his lawyer.

Diocesan officials disagree, stating diocesan lawyers have talked with Pellegrino on several occasions, one as recently as mid-September.

Dougherty said the lack of communication between him and the diocese has forced him into the thing he least wanted to do: reveal his story to the media.

"The incidents of abuse are the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened in my life. Do I want my family reading about it?" said Dougherty.

"This could have ended more than two years ago very simply with those two letters," said Dougherty.

Pellegrino and Dougherty fear the Springfield diocese, despite settling clergy sexual abuse claims for about $7.5 million this summer with some claimants, may have shifted its posture on settling 20 or so remaining claims because a Hampden Superior Court judge subsequently ruled that the church is protected by charitable immunity.

The state law provides that charitable institutions were completely protected from liability claims before Sept. 1971 and limited to $20,000 liability thereafter.

Dougherty's abuse falls within the period when the church was fully protected from claims.

"If the church resolved some of the claims - as it did, then they should resolve all of them," Dougherty said.

Despite his disappointment with church officials, Dougherty remains an active member of his parish - still Holy Name of Springfield.

"My faith hasn't changed at all. I still enjoy being a Eucharistic minister. I love going to my church. My faith is as strong as ever, but what church leaders have done depresses me," said Dougherty.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.