Sex abuse charges against New Bedfordpriest 'credible'
By Kiernan Dunlop
Standard-Times / SouthCoastToday
November 21, 2020
|The Diocese of Fall River has found sex abuse allegations againts Rev. Daniel Lacroix of New Bedford 'credible.'|
|Rev. Daniel Lacroix at Mass at St. Mary Churh in the North End of New Bedford.|
|All Saints Elementary School is connected to the St. Mary Church where Rev. Daniel Lacroix once served.|
NEW BEDFORD — A Ministerial Review Board has determined that allegations of sexual abuse of minors brought against a New Bedford Roman Catholic priest are credible and recommended he be permanently removed from priestly ministry, according to the Diocese of Fall River.
“Based upon my own review of the evidence and the thoughtful work of the Review Board, I have accepted the recommendations and met this week with Father [Daniel] Lacroix to inform him of this decision,” Bishop Edgar. M da Cunha said in a letter that was read to parishioners of Lacroix’s the weekend of November 14 - 15.
In 2019, Lacroix was named co-pastor at three North End Churches - St. Joseph-St. Therese, St. Mary, and Our Lady of Fatima Parishes. St. Mary, where Lacroix had been serving as a pastor since 2017, has an associated school, All Saints Catholic School, which serves preschool through Grade 8 students. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic St. Mary is the only church where Mass is currently being held out of the three parishes and the announcement about the diocese's decision was made there, according to Director of Communications John Kearns.
A priest removed from ministry may not publicly celebrate a Mass or sacrament, preach, present himself as a priest or wear clerical clothing, participate in any meeting or gathering or engage in any form of ministry, and he may not reside in a rectory or any other parish or diocesan facility, according to Kearns.
Kearns did not say if Lacroix would receive any retirement benefits or a severance.
In November 2019, Lacroix was placed on administrative leave after an external review of the diocese’s personnel files revealed information related to alleged misconduct that is said to have occurred decades ago.
At the time, the diocese said Lacroix would remain on leave pending further investigation.
The review of files started in January 2019 after da Cunha announced the diocese would release a list of clergy with credible allegations of abuse of a minor.
"While it has taken longer than anticipated, the work is nearing completion," Kearns said.
When the allegations first came to light Lacroix denied them in a post to his private Facebook page stating, “an independent audit found a memo or note of alleged misconduct during the early part of my ministry. I want all to hear it from me that ‘I have not engaged in any sexual activity with anyone during my years of seminary or into the priesthood.”
Over the phone Friday Lacroix's stance hadn't changed.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, I still deny the allegations,” Lacroix said, “I think it was possibly mistaken identity; these are things [that happened] 30 some-odd years ago...do you remember over 30 years ago and what was said and done?”
In a press release, the diocese said the incidents at the center of the matter did occur decades ago and in addition to the external review of personnel files, the decision to investigate the matter was prompted by the receipt of additional information recently brought to the attention of the diocese.
In the letter read at Lacroix’s parishes, da Cunha acknowledged, “how troubling this matter has been for the parishes here in the Catholic Community of New Bedford North where he had been serving, and this announcement will surely add to that.”
Lacroix said he is extremely disappointed and shocked by the diocese’s decision and asked if he is able to appeal the decision said “it’s certainly a possibility.”
“I had provided them with all the information that they required, I had offered polygraphs, it had gone to the DA, but still unfortunately they felt in the wake of Cardinal McCarrick that they did not want to take any chances,” Lacroix said, “There’s no proof but unfortunately they err on the side of caution.”
A report the Vatican released last week detailed sexual abuse allegations against Theodore McCarrick, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington who was removed from ministry in 2018 after a man accused him of committing criminal sexual conduct against him.
The Roman Catholic Church wants to show that it’s on top of things now and doesn’t allow predators and monsters, according to Lacroix, which has resulted in an environment where you're guilty until proven innocent, and “how can you have proof to prove your innocence and therefore you’re presumed guilty.”
Lacroix said there’s no evidence like DNA to prove him guilty and that it's just his accuser's word against his.
He said he doesn’t have ill will towards his accuser but questioned if the investigators looked into the accuser and determined his or her credibility.
The Ministerial Review Board, which is in place to advise and assist the bishop with addressing allegations of clergy misconduct, recommended Lacroix “be removed permanently from priestly ministry because of conduct that is inconsistent with standards of ministerial behavior and in direct violation of the Code Conduct for priests in the Fall River Diocese and the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for The Protection of Children and Young People,” according to da Cunha.
The board includes individuals with expertise in law, law enforcement, healthcare, mental health treatment, and ministry, according to a press release from the diocese, and it reviewed and deliberated on a report from an outside investigator hired by the diocese to look into the allegations against Lacroix.
A man with connections to All Saints Catholic School, who wished to remain anonymous, said he thinks it's absurd the diocese only announced its decision to remove Lacroix at Masses during a pandemic, but has not appeared to share the information with the parents of students that attend the school.
The information is available on the diocese's website.
“I would expect that this information be transmitted directly to parents of the current school that he was working at and the previous schools that he has served throughout the years,” the man said.
According to Kearns, the diocese has not informed the students, parents, faculty, and staff of All Saints of its decision regarding Lacroix.
Lacroix was ordained a priest in 1988 and over the past three decades he was assigned to Holy Name Parish in New Bedford, St. Patrick Parish in Wareham, and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, along with parishes in Chatham, Mansfield, Hyannis, and Seekonk, according to Kearns.
Lacroix said basically his whole life has been in the church and he looked for some part- time work while he was on administrative leave but there wasn’t too much out there due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now he plans to look for full-time work in business and finance.
Father Richard E. Degagne was placed on administrative leave by the diocese due to allegations of misconduct at the same time Lacroix was.
Degagne was pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Easton when he was placed on leave but was previously assigned to Holy Name Parish in Fall River and St. Anthony of Padua in New Bedford, as well as parishes in North Attleboro, Taunton, and East Freetown .
According to Kearns, the diocese has not come to a decision in the Degagne investigation.
The allegations against both Lacroix and Degagne were reported to civil authorities for thier review, in accordance with Fall River Diocesan policies, Kearns said.
The Bristol County District Attorney's Office did not respond to The Standard-Times' request for comment prior to deadline.