Vatican Defrocks Springfield Diocese Priest Accused of Sex Abuse

June 8, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- A Roman Catholic priest suspected of sexual abuse while serving in the Springfield Diocese has been defrocked, church officials said Thursday.

Richard Meehan, a one-time director of vocations for the diocese who was responsible for recruiting and overseeing seminarians, was permanently dismissed from the priesthood on April 28 by Pope Benedict XVI.

"This demonstrates a resolve on part of the Vatican and the church as a whole to deal with the issue of sexual abuse," said Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Springfield Diocese. "For a priest to be removed from the priesthood is the most severe punishment."

Dupont would not give any details of the accusations against Meehan or say how many people he is suspected of abusing.

John Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer who represents two men who say they were molested by Meehan when they were boys, said the abuse occurred between 1969 and 1984.

"There is a wide span of time within which he was allegedly out there abusing children," said Stobierski, who in 2004 helped negotiate a $7.7 million settlement between the diocese and 46 victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Marty Bono, 51, of Chicopee, who was a party to that settlement, said Meehan abused him when he was a boy.

"I'm completely relieved, but part of me is angry that this took so long," Bono said Thursday. "But it gives me affirmation that everything I said was true, and the closure I needed was for him to be defrocked."

Meehan, who last served as a parish priest at St. John the Evangelist in Agawam, could not immediately be reached for comment.

When the diocese determined in 1994 that there were credible accusations made against Meehan, then-Bishop John Marshall removed him from parish ministry, Dupont said.

In 2002, after the clergy sex abuse scandal began to unfold in dioceses across the country, church officials referred Meehan's case to the Vatican.

They also turned over their findings to Hampden District Attorney William Bennett.

Bennett declined to comment Thursday.

Meehan is the second priest from the Springfield Diocese to be defrocked. In 2004, convicted pedophile priest Richard Lavigne was removed from the priesthood by the Vatican. Lavigne, who was suspected but never charged with the 1972 slaying of altar boy Danny Croteau, was convicted in 1992 of molesting two altar boys.

Since he was suspended from his priestly duties in 1994, Meehan had been receiving benefits and a monthly stipend of about $1,200. Those payments will end now that he's been defrocked, Dupont said.

In 2004, Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre resigned after being accused of molesting two boys in the 1970s. Dupre was later indicted on child rape charges, making him the first bishop in the nation to be indicted in the clergy sex abuse scandal. But Bennett said he could not prosecute the case because the statute of limitations had expired.


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