Diocese of Fall River Suspends Retired Catholic Priests James Buckley, Edward Byington over Claims of Child Sex Abuse
By Jackson Cote
January 20, 2020
Two retired Catholic priests were suspended from the ministry over allegations they sexually abused children decades ago, the Diocese of Fall River announced Sunday.
The suspended priests, James F. Buckley and Edward J. Byington, are not assigned to a parish but have assisted with masses at various churches since their retirements in the 2000s, the Diocese of Fall River said in a statement.
Byington has also taught German classes at St. Joseph’s School in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The Diocese of Providence was notified of Byington’s suspension, according to the Diocese of Fall River.
“Nothing is more important than the welfare of all members of our diocesan community, especially anyone who has been harmed or impacted by abuse in any way,” Bishop Edgar da Cunha said in the diocese’s statement. “The Diocese of Fall River remains committed to resolving these matters in as fair and as transparent a process as possible and to ensuring the safety of all youth and vulnerable adults.”
The separate claims of abuse, denied by both priests, are unrelated and remain under investigation by the diocese. The allegations were also referred to law enforcement. Suspension is required by diocesan policies, the statement said.
A man accused Byington of sexually abusing him in the 1970s when he was roughly 16 years old. The alleged victim was not Catholic but was introduced to the priest at Encountering Christ in Others, a weekend retreat program for Christian teenagers on the Cape and Islands. The man was invited by two friends to attend the retreat with them, according to attorney Mitchell Garabedian
The man’s claim was investigated and denied by the Diocese of Fall River, a primary reason being no one else at the time accused Byington of child sex abuse, according to Garabedian, who is representing the alleged victim and has requested the Diocese of Fall River to reopen his client’s claim for further investigation.
The diocese, as part of the investigation, spoke to two corroborating witnesses, one who was told about the alleged abuse shortly after it happened and another who was informed about six years before the investigation, Garabedian said.
“The sexual abuse occurred in approximately 1971 when Fr. Byington, under the pretense of giving my client a ride home, drove my client to the rectory of Sacred Heart Church in Taunton, MA, even though Fr. Byington was not assigned to the Church then,” Garabedian said in a statement. “Sacred Heart Church was very close to my client’s home at the time.”
The man did not report the alleged abuse to the police because he was not emotionally able to do so, the attorney said.
“My client is feeling emotionally drained after hearing about the suspension of Fr. Byington and also feels that it is about time that Fr. Byington be publicly outed for accusations of clergy sexual abuse,” Garabedian said.
Byington was ordained in 1970 and retired in 2006, the diocese said. His previous assignments included St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, Sacred Heart Parish in Fall River, Sacred Heart Parish in Taunton, St. Patrick Parish in Fall River, St. Paul Parish in Taunton, St. George Parish in Westport, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk, St. Francis of Xavier Parish in Hyannis and St. Thomas More Parish in Somerset.
Buckley, who was ordained in 1959, retired in 2001, according to the diocese’s statement. He was previously assigned to two Fall River churches, including St. Mary’s Cathedral and Sacred Heart Parish, as well as the Immaculate Conception Parish in North Easton, St. Joan of Arc Parish in Orleans, St. Augustine Parish in Vineyard Haven, St. Margaret Parish in Buzzards Bay and Holy Redeemer Parish in Chatham.
The Diocese of Fall River recently hired Carolyn Shipp, a licensed social worker, as its victim assistance coordinator. She will focus on outreach to survivors of sex abuse as part of efforts to improve the Office of Safe Environment, according to the diocese.
Anyone with information they wish to share about the conduct of past or present members of the diocese has been urged to call Shipp at 508-985-6508 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.