Flanked by a supportive priest and nun, a North Adams man yesterday joined another alleged sexual abuse victim of the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne in seeking to open court documents they say prove the Catholic church did nothing to protect victims.
Paul R. Babeu, a well-known North Adams resident, and a man using the alias John Doe want to open the file of a 1992 case in which Lavigne admitting to molesting two boys. Babeu, who says Lavigne was part of a ring of priests that passed children around, says the file proves the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield knew Lavigne was a sexual abuser and could have prevented him from abusing others between 1986 and 1991.
The diocese issued a statement yesterday that said one individual came forward in 1986 alleging abuse by Lavigne, who was subsequently ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and was determined to be no threat.
A diocesan spokesman would not say whether the individual was Babeu.
Standing with two members of the clergy, Babeu spoke — sometimes tearfully — about the abuse by Lavigne, the betrayal by diocesan officials and the hope that other victims come forward.
“I’m calling on church officials to get honest. They should have prevented countless others from becoming victims,” said Babeu, a 33-year-old former Berkshire County commissioner who ran unsuccessfully in 1996 for the state Senate seat previously held by acting Gov. Jane M. Swift.
His former pastor, the Rev. Eugene D. Honan, and longtime friend and “second mother” Sister Eunice A. Tassone, of the Sisters of St. Joseph order, said at the news conference that each separately told the Most Rev. Leo E. O’Neil in 1986 that Babeu was being abused by Lavigne. O’Neil died in 1997.
Lavigne, who lives in Chicopee, continues to receive a subsistence stipend from the diocese.
In its statement yesterday, the diocese said, “The Diocese was not aware of any other complaint concerning Fr. Lavigne when he was arrested in 1991.”
The statement also said O’Neil cooperated fully with law enforcement officials and the diocese “provided whatever documentation it had.”
Both Honan, of Northampton’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and Tassone said they were led to believe that Lavigne would be removed from parish ministry, but that didn’t occur until 1991 when criminal charges were filed.
“I’m here not only to support Paul, but as part of the institutional church I need to take responsibility, and I need to hold the church accountable,” said Tassone.
She said eight people have come forward to say they were molested by Lavigne since people spoke on behalf of Babeu in 1986.
“I have to live with that,” said Tassone as she stood in front of the Franklin County Courthouse, where a motion was filed yesterday to open the Lavigne criminal file.
The church paid $1.4 million to settle abuse claims against Lavigne by 17 plaintiffs in 1994. It settled another abuse case against the priest with the brother of a murdered Springfield altar boy two years later for an undisclosed sum.
Babeu said he was abused from ages 13-16 mostly in Shelburne Falls, where Lavigne was pastor when criminal charges were filed against him.
Babeu refused to discuss many details of the sexual acts. However, he said Lavigne passed him along to another priest who abused him in Vermont.
Babeu said there was a ring of priests who passed children to each other.
“I was passed off as if I was an object,” said Babeu.
In 1987, Babeu wrote about the incident to the Most Rev. John A. Marshall, the bishop of Vermont who would later strip Lavigne of his priestly rights after becoming bishop of the Springfield Diocese.
Babeu produced a copy of a letter that Marshall wrote back, saying he had never heard “any rumor, innuendo or complaint directly or indirectly that he (the accused priest) possessed pedophilic tendencies.”
Babeu cannot file criminal charges against Lavigne as a result of the plea agreement in which Lavigne pleaded guilty to two charges of molestation in 1992. The charges were brought by former altar boys at St. Joseph’s Church in Shelburne Falls.
According to the agreement, all abuse matters pertaining to Lavigne that the state could have been investigating at the time were dismissed.
Because the diocese had knowledge of Babeu’s allegations, the state could have found out about his case and could have investigated, he says.
Babeu doesn’t blame prosecutors in the case, but said the diocese should have stepped forward and acted on the knowledge it possessed.
“It protected its interests and not the interests of victims like myself,” said Babeu.
Retired Bishop Joseph F. Maguire, who led the local church from 1977 to 1992, said recently that the church has transformed its thinking on sexual abuse. It used to view it as a moral offense, but now sees it as a criminal offense, he said.
The motion to terminate the impoundment was filed on behalf of John Doe, a pseudonym used for a former altar boy who two months ago filed a suit against Lavigne and the diocese.
Doe said Lavigne molested him in a room off the altar and at the rectory at St. Joseph’s Church in Shelburne Falls.
Babeu, who met Lavigne while he was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in North Adams, said he was molested at St. Joseph’s Church, also, while on visits to family friend Lavigne.
“He told me there was nothing wrong with homosexuality and there were passages in the Bible to prove it. . . . Before Mass he fed me (Communion) wafers like they were candy,” said Babeu, who is near completion for his master’s degree in public administration at American International College in Springfield.
In the past several months, three civil suits have been filed against Lavigne charging him with sexual abuse.