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Lawyer: Diocese Slowed Lavigne Case

Oct 30, 2002 | Hampshire Gazette

The lawyer representing several of the alleged abuse victims of the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne said Tuesday that sealed documents released Monday show contradictions in how the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield responded to the criminal case and that it may have actively attempted to slow down the investigation that began in October 1991.

The documents, released after 10 years under seal, show "continuing patterns of failure to come forward to authorities with information that would have assisted with the prosecution of ... Lavigne," said attorney John Stobierski during a press conference at his offices in Greenfield.

Lavigne pleaded guilty in 1992 to fondling two boys and served 10 years probation. He also was barred from serving as a priest in the diocese.

Stobierski was accompanied at the press conference by Paul Babeu of North Adams, who alleges he was molested by Lavigne in the early 1980s and that his case was dismissed in 1994 before he had an opportunity to present testimony.

Babeu said the records prove that the diocese and its bishops knew that Lavigne posed a danger to young men in the church and, by not taking actions, they obstructed justice and put many more children in harm's way.

"It's about time they come clean and support victims and tell the truth and end the charade," Babeu said.

Babeu said that only as more information is revealed through documents do the church leaders present factual information. "Now they're starting to tell the truth because we're making them tell the truth about it," Babeu said.

Stobierski presented a state police report sent to the Northwestern District Attorney's office on Jan. 6, 1994, in which Lt. Edward D. Harrington of the Northampton barracks, who was investigating a reported molestation in Franklin County, said he was denied permission by the District Attorney's Office to obtain a search warrant for the rectory at St. Joseph's Church in Buckland.

"That indicates to us, at least, that there was hindrance of the criminal investigation," Stobierski said.

In addition, the late Leo O'Neil, once the auxiliary bishop in Springfield, may have known about the allegations against Lavigne but refused to discuss them with police. "Bishop O'Neil stated that this would not be possible at this time due to his having an extremely busy schedule," Harrington wrote, according to the documents.

Stobierski compared the process of getting information to that of peeling away the layers of an onion, though he acknowledged the released documents aren't proof of wrongdoing.

"We believe this information is germane and important, but perhaps not everything we'd looked for," Stobierski said.

The clients who have filed suit in recent months want the church to come clean, Stobierski said. "Most of my clients are doing this for the principle, not as some may believe, for money," Stobierski said.

According to Stobierski, the documents also provide further evidence of abuse, which he said "corroborate a pattern of conduct by Richard Lavigne that we think will be helpful in going forward with civil cases."

Several civil suits have been filed this year against Lavigne and the Springfield Diocese as a result of men saying they were molested by Lavigne decades before he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two other boys.

Their civil suits, filed in Springfield Superior Court, say Lavigne abused them at some point during the 1970s and 1980s when he served in parishes in Springfield, North Adams and Shelburne Falls.

Although Lavigne has been banned from ever serving as a priest, he has not been defrocked.

In 1994, the diocese settled a lawsuit for $1.4 million with 17 alleged victims of Lavigne.

In a statement issued this summer, officials for the diocese said former Bishop Joseph Maguire requested a mental health evaluation of Lavigne in 1986 after receiving allegations of abuse against the priest.

"The result of that evaluation was that Lavigne was not a threat to re-offend and he could, with counseling, continue his duties," the statement said. "The Diocese was aware of no further complaints concerning Fr. Lavigne until he was arrested in 1991."

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