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Babeu Files Lawsuit Against Priest, Diocese

Dec 18, 2002 | AP

A former Berkshire County commissioner who says he was molested by his boyhood parish priest sued the cleric and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield yesterday.

Paul Babeu, 33, who now lives in Queen Creek, Ariz., says he was molested between the ages of 13 and 15 by the Rev. Richard Lavigne while Babeu was one of Lavigne's parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi in North Adams.

Lavigne pleaded guilty in 1992 to fondling two altar boys and served 10 years' probation.

Babeu, who was a North Adams city councilor from 1987 to 1989, ran unsuccessfully for mayor of the city against John W. Barrett III in 1997 and in 2001 and served as a Berkshire County commissioner between 1993 and 1997, publicly accused Lavigne of abusing him earlier this year.

Lavigne's lawyer did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Babeu said he held off on suing the priest until yesterday because he wanted his case heard by a misconduct commission set up by the Springfield Diocese. The commission, a lay board established to investigate reports of sex abuse after Lavigne's conviction, only listens to claims made by people who are not suing.

Fourteen men have filed suit this year charging the diocese in sexual abuse cases. Eleven of those cases, including one filed by Babeu's older brother, Marine Corps Capt. Francis Babeu, 37, of Waco, Texas, also name Lavigne as a defendant.

Babeu said he first contacted the misconduct commission in July. He received a letter saying a meeting might be scheduled by mid-October, but one was never set up, he said. He last wrote to the commission on Oct. 15, and hasn't heard from them since, he said.

"The only reason why I'm suing them is because they refused to hear me," Babeu said at a news conference called by his attorney, John Stobierski, of Greenfield. "They denied me justice. This isn't about money. This is about justice."

Stobierski also filed suit against the diocese on behalf of Norman LaPolice, 52, of Jamestown, R.I. LaPolice says he was molested as a student at Cathedral High School in 1964 by the Rev. Karl Huller, who is deceased.

Mike Graziano, the diocese's communications director, said yesterday afternoon that officials had not been told about the lawsuits, and would not comment on them.

Officials from the diocese have said the first complaint they received about Lavigne was in 1986. They have said that Lavigne underwent a mental health evaluation and was determined to pose no threat to the parish. The next complaint against Lavigne came in 1991, a year before his arrest, officials have said.

Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre said Monday he has begun the process of defrocking Lavigne. Vatican approval Monday of the U.S. bishops policy on sex abuse enables him to use a new streamlined process to strip Lavigne of his priestly status, Dupre said.

Babeu criticized Dupre for acting too late, and said the bishop should step down.

"Bishop Dupre has not accepted responsibility for what's happened in his diocese," Babeu said. "I will no longer have faith or trust in this church or their leaders. They've chosen not to protect their believers."

Babeu, who seeks unspecified damages in the suit, said he was molested by Lavigne in Shelburne Falls, Chicopee and Ashfield between 1982 and 1985. He also says Lavigne drove him to Vermont and passed him off to the Rev. George Paulin, who also allegedly molested him. Babeu said he will sue Paulin and the Diocese of Burlington in Chittenden Superior Court today.

Gloria Gibson, a spokeswoman from the Burlington Diocese, said she was unaware of the pending litigation and would not comment on it. Paulin told his congregation in May that he was being placed on administrative leave.

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