The Diocese of Springfield allowed the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne to continue to work in parishes and with altar boys from 1972 until 1991, even after he was twice given lie detector tests about his suspected role in the 1972 murder of an altar boy, according to documents released yesterday by a lawyer pressing sexual abuse claims against the priest.
The documents also detailed early warnings about alleged abuse by Lavigne, who pleaded guilty in 1992 to the rape of two children, and showed that as early as 1966, faculty at the seminary Lavigne attended were concerned about his emotional stability. The diocese has said it did not receive its first abuse complaint against Lavigne until 1986.
The documents were among 168 pages the diocese has turned over to attorney John J. Stobierski of Greenfield, who represents seven men who have filed suit in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield against Lavigne, the diocese, several former bishops, and a priest. Stobierski, who released the documents to the news media yesterday, said he intends to file four or five more suits. Stobierski said, in response to his discovery motion, the diocese has identified 699 pages of documents, but has refused to turn over much of the material, saying the records include privileged medical information.
Stephen Block, one of the plaintiffs represented by Stobierski, said that in 1972 he was molested as a 12-year-old altar boy by Lavigne at St. Mary’s Parish in East Springfield. The abuse occurred after the priest submitted to the polygraph examinations in the murder investigation.
Lavigne took his first polygraph on May 4, 1972, three weeks after altar boy Danny Croteau’s bludgeoned body was found on the banks of the Chicopee River, on the Springfield-Chicopee line. The polygraph examiner said that during the first test Lavigne gave ”erratic and inconsistent answers” to questions about whether he had killed the 13-year-old boy, leading the examiner to say he couldn’t determine whether Lavigne was telling the truth. Lavigne passed a second test five days later.
Prosecutors closed their investigation into the murder in 1995. DNA tests failed to link the priest to a blood sample found at the crime scene. The case remains unsolved.
In 1991, Lavigne was arrested for rape. He pleaded guilty to raping two boys and served a 10-year probation sentence. In 1994, the diocese settled claims of abuse against him by 17 victims for $1.4 million, according to published reports. Lavigne, believed to be living in the Chicopee area, could not be reached for comment.
Lavigne has not been defrocked by the diocese, but is not allowed to act as a priest.