4 Brothers File Priest Abuse Suit

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
December 13, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - Four brothers who grew up in Greenfield have filed suit saying they were sexually abused by five priests and that the diocese and Boy Scouts organizations "conspired" to keep the abuse from the public.

The brothers, all of whom were altar servers and religious education teachers, said the abuse took place in rectories, the church, private homes, and private and Boy Scout camps and vehicles between 1967 and 1983.

The suit was filed by the brothers under the pseudonyms of John, James, Alan and Mark Doe. The brothers, who no longer live in Massachusetts, are represented by Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso and Springfield lawyer Ryan E. Alekman.

The Revs. Francis P. Lavelle, Edward M. Kennedy, Ronald E. Wamsher and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield were named as defendants in the suit that was filed in Hampden Superior Court yesterday. The priests were accused of sexual abuse in the suit.

Former Scoutmaster Bruce A. Mooney of Greenfield, the Boy Scouts of America and the Great Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America were also named as defendants. Mooney was not accused of sexual abuse in the suit.

Deceased priests the Revs. J. Roy Jenness and Thomas J. O'Connor were accused in the suit of sexual abuse, but were not named as defendants.

A diocesan statement read, "The Diocese is aware of allegations being made by four brothers from Greenfield. Upon formal notification, these matters will be turned over to lawyers representing our insurance carriers."

The diocesan spokesman said Wamsher denied the allegations and there had been "no finding" against him when the matter came up before the diocese's Misconduct Commission.

Efforts to reach Lavelle and Kennedy through the diocese for comment failed.

Attempts to reach Mooney for comment were unsuccessful.

Richard D. Stritzinger, executive of the Great Trails Council, had no comment on the suit, but said he had no record of complaints against Mooney. The Great Trails Council oversees Boys Scouts of America operations in Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties, where 4,000 children are involved in Scouts activities.

Gregg K. Shields, national spokesman for Boy Scouts of America, also refused to comment on the litigation. He said the organization has continually taken measures to protect children.

Earlier this year, Boy Scouts of America began requiring criminal background checks of all potential new volunteers. For the past 15 years or so, Scout policies forbid adult Scout leaders to be alone with a child at any time.

The suit states that Mooney "actively aided ... the defendant perpetrators ... in sexually abusing the plaintiffs." The suit also states that Mooney, the diocese and the Great Trails and Boy Scouts organizations knew that sexual abuse was occurring and conspired to keep the information from becoming public, thus making it possible for the defendants to continue to commit sexual abuses.

The abuse of the brothers was begun by Jenness, the oldest brother said.

"Jenness gave me my first drink of alcohol - Cutty Sark whiskey," said the oldest brother, who said the abuse for him started at age 14.

The suit states that "alcohol, marijuana and pornography" were used in the abuse of the brothers.

The second oldest, who is 48, said he was abused by Jenness, O'Connor, Kennedy, Lavelle and Wamsher. He recalled being shared by Jenness and O'Connor on some nights at Jenness' camp in Huntington.

The brothers said the abuse involved a variety of sexual acts.

"As horrific as the sex itself was, what was more horrific to all of us is that we trusted these men. In our eyes and in our parents' eyes, these men - priests - were here to serve God," said one brother.

"The abuse has left us with a lack of trust of others. It has devastated our lives. Three of us have had broken marriages and all of us are currently in counseling or have been in counseling," he said.

They said that their parents would have never believed what was happening to them.

"All our lives were built around the church. These same priests were regular dinner guests in our parents' home," one said.

Two of the brothers recalled coming home from athletic activities after school to find no dinner set for them.

"My mother would say Father called and said he wanted company on his ride to a meeting and will take you out to dinner. She would say, 'He doesn't have any friends. Be a good kid and be his friend.' These predators preyed on my mother's tremendous faith," one said.

The brothers said they didn't know as children that their siblings were being abused also.

They said they filed the suit out of frustration with the diocese's inaction after the accusations were brought forward beginning in August 2002.

The brothers met with the diocese's Misconduct Commission Nov. 13, 2002, and with the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, the bishop of the Springfield Diocese, Nov. 21, 2002.

"More than a year after coming forward - we receive a letter notifying us that (Father) Lavelle will soon be facing our accusations. And that was after we were told that our accusations were credible and compelling. Nothing has changed in the church. It is stonewalling people," said one of the brothers.

The diocese acknowledged the meetings between the diocese and the brothers.

"The Commission also requested additional information from these individuals in a February 2003 letter. They did not reply to that request," the statement read.

None of the three defendant clerics are working in parish settings today.

Lavelle asked for and was granted relief of his duties as pastor of St. Mary's Church in Longmeadow by the bishop in 2002 when two suits were filed by men accusing him of sexual abuse when they were minors. He denied those accusations.

Kennedy retired in 2002 as Dupre said he was going to remove him from all ministry because of credible accusations of abuse against him. He can no longer present himself publicly as a priest.

Wamsher, a native of Pennsylvania, most recently served in a parish setting at St. Francis Parish in Belchertown. He left there in summer 2002 to pursue a canon law degree at Catholic University, in Washington, D.C.

He returned to the diocese several months later to work on the diocesan tribunal that considers marriage annulments.

Wamsher appeared before the Misconduct Commission and answered its questions, according to the diocesan statement.

"He denied the allegations. There was no finding against him and he continues in his ministry as a member of the Tribunal Office," the statement read.

At least 29 people have filed suit against the diocese in the past two years, during which time another 40 or so people have brought accusations of mostly sexual abuse to the diocese's Misconduct Commission. Thirty diocesan workers, including 25 priests - some of whom are deceased - have been accused.

The Misconduct Commission is the all-lay panel that investigates accusations and makes recommendations to the bishop on accusations that prove to be credible.


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