Lawsuit against Former Fall River Diocese Bishop Cronin Can Proceed
By Brian Fraga
March 29, 2018
A judge is allowing a trial to proceed against former Fall River Bishop Daniel A. Cronin, who was sued three years ago for his alleged failure to supervise a priest who is accused of molesting two boy altar servers in the 1970s and 1980s.
In his ruling on Cronin’s motion for a summary judgement, dated March 5, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Maynard Kirplani said a jury should decide the case because questions remain as to whether Cronin should have been suspicious of and investigated the late Monsignor Maurice Souza for spending a lot of time away from his parish on the Cape and going on road trips with adolescent boys.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the plaintiffs, said the judge’s decision is significant because it says the former bishop “had an obligation to supervise in a reasonable manner” to determine whether Souza violated the Catholic Church’s rules regulating priests’ vacations and prohibiting lay people from staying in a rectory. Garabedian said those concerns could have triggered an inquiry in to Souza’s behavior.
“Bishop Cronin could therefore be found by a jury to be negligent even though it has not been shown that Bishop Cronin had prior notice of Monsignor Souza sexually abusing the plaintiffs,” said Garabedian, who has represented dozens of victims of clergy sex abuse.
Garabedian said Kirplani’s ruling “helps hold supervisors accountable which helps victims try to heal and it helps protect children.”
Attorney Ross A. Kimball, who represents Cronin, noted that the judge allowed Cronin’s motion on the plaintiffs’ claims for breach of fiduciary duty. The judge also wrote in his ruling that while “genuine issues of material fact” remain, the case against Cronin “is certainly slim.”
“Bishop Cronin denies the allegations against him, and we are confident that, when the case is tried, there will be no evidence to support the claims of negligent supervision/retention,” Kimball said.
The lawsuit alleges that Souza, who died at age 83 in August 1996, sexually assaulted the victims from the time they were 9 and 10 years old to when they were both 17 years of age. Both victims met Souza when he was the pastor of St. Anthony’s Church in East Falmouth, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, which seeks monetary compensatory damages, says Souza, on more than 250 occasions, molested the boys while taking them on trips to Canada and nine states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts. The lawsuit also claims the victims spent nights with Souza in hotel rooms, the church rectory and a private residence in Taunton.
Souza, a New Bedford native who was ordained a priest in 1939, served as pastor of St. Anthony’s in Falmouth from 1977 to when he retired in 1986. He also served at parishes in New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton.
According to court documents, Cronin — who served as bishop of Fall River from 1970 to 1992 — said in a deposition that he would have removed Souza from ministry if he had known about the sexual abuse allegations. The documents also indicate that the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest who is regarded as an expert on clergy sexual abuse, issued a report that Souza’s travels with young boys was “highly unusual” and should have triggered inquiries from the bishop.
The lawsuit accuses Cronin of negligent hiring, retention, direction and supervision. The judge threw out a charge that accused the bishop of breaching his fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs.
Originally submitted 2014 in Connecticut, the lawsuit was filed in June 2015 in Massachusetts after Cronin, the retired archbishop of Hartford, agreed to transfer the case and travel to Massachusetts to testify. Cronin also agreed to waive any statute of limitation defense.