Diocese Removes Priest for Sexual Abuse Claims

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 23, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - A priest who served two bishops of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield as their secretary has been permanently removed from ministry for sexual abuse.

The Rev. Francis P. Lavelle, who has been accused by three men of sexually abusing them when they were minors, was notified last week that he can no longer present himself publicly as a priest, according to Laura F. Reilly, who heads the Springfield Diocese's victim outreach program.

The decision to permanently remove Lavelle from ministry was made by former bishop Thomas L. Dupre upon the recommendation of the diocese's Review Board, Reilly said yesterday.

The Review Board met with Lavelle in December after meeting with two of Lavelle's accusers several months earlier about their accusations against Lavelle.

"Bishop Dupre intended to meet face-to-face with Father Lavelle," said Reilly, who Saturday informed the accusers of the diocese's decision.

Dupre unexpectedly resigned citing health reasons on Feb. 11. The resignation was announced the day after The Republican confronted Dupre with allegations that he sexually abused two minors more than 20 years ago. Dupre has yet to respond to the accusations.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, who is serving as interim administrator until a new bishop is named, informed Lavelle of the diocese's decision on Friday through a letter.

Lavelle still maintains his innocence with regard to all accusations, according to Lavelle's lawyer C.J. Moriarty II. Moriarty had no comment regarding the diocese's action.

One of Lavelle's accusers expressed satisfaction yesterday with the diocese's action.

"I just wished it hadn't taken so long, but I'm pleased with the result," said the man who filed suit under the pseudonym of John Doe. He is a 40-year-old lawyer in New York City who grew up in Springfield.

John Doe and another man, truck driver Kerry Kristopher Kane of Oakland Mills, Pa., filed suit against Lavelle in July 2002.

The day after the suits were filed, Lavelle asked for and was granted relief from his duties as pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Longmeadow.

He has been receiving from the diocese a monthly stipend of $1,030 and health and dental benefits since leaving St. Mary's Parish and will continue to receive those benefits.

Lavelle was also accused of sexual abuse in another suit in December, when four brothers who grew up in Greenfield accused five priests of abusing them between 1967 and 1983. One brother said he was abused by Lavelle.

Lavelle is a Holyoke native who attended the former Sacred Heart Parish and schools. He was ordained in 1970 by the Most Rev. Christopher Weldon at St. Michael's Cathedral. He served as a secretary to Weldon and Maguire and also served in parish ministry in Westfield, Adams and Northampton.

He was assigned to the Newman Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst for several years before being named pastor at St. Mary.


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