45 of 46 Claimants Accept Settlement with Springfield Diocese

By Trudy Tynan
Associated Press, carried in Worcester Telegram
August 5, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.- All but one of 46 people who accused priests of sexually abusing them as children have agreed to accept a more than $7 million settlement with the Diocese of Springfield, an attorney for the alleged victims and a spokesman for the diocese said Thursday.

"For most of my clients, they want this miserable ordeal to end, so they've had to swallow some pride. Finality to this saga is more important than additional money," attorney John Stobierski said.

Diocese spokesman Mark Dupont said the diocese had been notified of the acceptances.

"We respect the decision that these individuals made, including the one who has opted not to participate in the settlement," Dupont said.

The lone holdout is U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Francis Babeu, who says he was abused by defrocked priest Richard Lavigne between the ages of 12 and 17 while Lavigne was at St. Francis of Assisi parish in North Adams.

Stobierski said his clients have been in arbitration meetings to decide the amount of each person's settlement, which will be at least $80,000 and will likely average about $150,000. The amount they receive will depend on the type of abuse - ranging from fondling to rape - and how long the abuse lasted.

Mediator Paul Finn, who helped broker a $90 million settlement between the Boston Archdiocese and more than 550 clergy sex-abuse victims there, will send out notices of the award amounts on Aug. 20, and the checks would be cut by Aug. 31, Stobierski said.

The diocese also agreed to provide lifetime counseling to the victims and appoint a victim of clergy abuse to a lay panel that considers complaints against clergy.

Bishop Timothy McDonnell met with Finn within days of his April 1 installation.

McDonnell's predecessor, Bishop Thomas Dupre, resigned in February amid accusations he had molested two boys in the 1970s. The two men who say they were abused by Dupre were not included in the settlement.

A grand jury is investigating the allegations against the former head of the diocese.

Twenty-two of Stobierski's clients sued the diocese. The others had complained to the church about abuse, but never took legal action.

The settlement will be about $6.8 million, plus proceeds from the sale of two vacant parcels of land, valued at more than $585,000, according to Stobierski. As in the Boston settlement, the church agreed to put up the money for the settlement then seek reimbursement from its insurers, he said.

The original $7 million settlement was reduced slightly, as one claimant chose not to settle and to continue litigation.

Stobierski, who took the cases on a contingency basis two years ago, said he will get one-third of each individual settlement. His firm could receive as much as $2.5 million.

Two dozen of his clients said they were abused by Lavigne in the late 1960s and 1970s. The others have accused 17 other priests - a handful of whom are dead - of abuse between the 1950s and the early 1990s.

Lavigne, who served 10 years probation after pleading guilty in 1992 to fondling two altar boys, was defrocked by the Vatican. The other accused priests have been removed from ministry by the diocese.

Settling allows the diocese to close the books and sweep the problem under the rug, said Babeu, 39, who is stationed in Waco, Texas.

"The Diocese of Springfield hasn't come forward with the entire truth and documentation we wanted as a group," said Babeu, who credits the Marines with saving him from "a psych ward somewhere."

"The church hasn't accepted responsibility, especially the leadership, and I want to see them accept responsibility," said Babeu, who plans to move forward with his civil suit against the diocese.

Babeu said he didn't speak out while he was being abused, and thus allowed two younger brothers to be molested. Refusing to accept the diocese's settlement in an effort to get to the truth is his way of making up for that.

"I fell short of protecting them in a way an older brother should," he said.


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