Lawyer Speaks of Client's Death

By Patricia Norris
The Springfield Republican
August 13, 2004

GREENFIELD - Alleged clergy abuse victim Shawn M. Dobbert will not be laid to rest with Catholic funeral rites today.

His mother, despite a lifelong pledge to Catholicism, will instead say goodbye to her son during a funeral service at St. John's Episcopal church in North Adams.

"She couldn't do it. She felt it would have been hypocritical in that it was the church where Shawn was molested and he had rejected organized religion as a result of his molestation," said John J. Stobierski, a lawyer representing Dobbert and 44 others in a $7.5 million, sex abuse settlement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Dobbert, 36, who was found dead in his apartment Tuesday, filed suit against the diocese in 2002, saying he was sexually abused from 1976 to 1986 by former priest Richard Lavigne. The two met while Lavigne presided over St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church in North Adams.

Stobierski spoke on behalf of the Dobbert family in a press conference at his Greenfield office yesterday.

Police, who are investigating the death, are awaiting the autopsy report.

"Shawn very well could have died of natural causes," said Stobierski, adding that Dobbert had many physical illnesses, which he would not elaborate on. Stobierski also said Dobbert, who was found by friends, was not discovered in a manner that would suggest foul play.

Stobierski expressed concern over the emotional effect Dobbert's death is having on clergy abuse victims, saying many contemplate suicide as they attempt to deal with years of physical and mental abuse.

"This is something so traumatic," he said.

Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell said in a prepared statement he was saddened by Dobbert's death.

"It is our fervent hope and prayer that he is at peace with God. Our prayers are also extended to his family and friends during this difficult time," he said.

Stobierski called upon the diocese to implement a comprehensive program that would assist claimants over the long term with issues like job placement.

"If that program were set up, Shawn would have definitely benefited from it," he said.

Part of the settlement does include lifetime counseling.

Dobbert, who was unemployed at the time of his death, was one of Stobierski's most "tortured" clients. Dobbert said two years ago that Lavigne conditioned him to believe that only he could love Dobbert because he was overweight and unappealing to others.

"He (Dobbert) was courageous in his commitment to follow through (in exposing the abuse)," said Stobierski. "He did not have to do that."

Dobbert was not taking part in the two-week binding arbitration process to determine the sum of his settlement with the diocese. In February, he opted to forgo the process where arbitrators ask claimants to reveal all aspects of the abuse and its effect on their lives, for an outright decision.

Stobierski said Dobbert died before knowing how much he would receive from the settlement, but noted that Dobbert knew that it would be a minimum of $80,000.