Pastor Criticizes Springfield Diocese Handling of Sex Abuse

The Associated Press, carried in Springfield Union-News [East Longmeadow MA]
February 17, 2003

EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. (AP) -- An East Longmeadow pastor is demanding that the Springfield Diocese take a more aggressive approach to the sexual abuse crisis and stop financially supporting a priest convicted of molesting boys.

The Rev. James J. Scahill read to his congregation at St. Michael's Parish on Sunday, from a letter he wrote to Bishop Thomas L. Dupre condemning his handling of the crisis and his support of the Rev. Richard Lavigne, who pleaded guilty to molesting two boys.

Dupre has "accused me of being disobedient and I've told him there's no virtue to obedience that requires one to suppress one's conscience," Scahill told The Boston Globe after Mass. "The kind of obedience he's looking for is the obedience of the soldiers of Hitler -- a blind myopic obedience. So I've stepped outside of that."

Scahill also opposes the church's plan to seek dismissal of 19 sexual abuse lawsuits.

"The bishops are spending more time with their lawyers than with their consciences," Scahill said. "There's now the effort to dismiss lawsuits on the constitutional grounds of the separation of church and state. I hold God to be superior to the state. I don't hold the institutional church to be superior to justice. It's made me ashamed to be a Catholic.

Lavigne was arrested in 1991, and charged with five counts of sexual abuse. He pleaded guilty in 1992 to molesting two boys and the other charges were dropped. He was sentenced to a rehabilitation center for several months and placed on 10 years' probation.

In the 1990s, the diocese settled suits for $1.4 million with 17 men, who accused Lavigne of abusing them. Within the past year another 12 men, who claim they were abused as children, have sued Lavigne and the diocese.

The diocese has started the process of defrocking Lavigne, but it will continue to pay $1,000 a month and cover an $8,000 medical and dental package, Scahill said.

Dupre has said that diocese has to continue financially supporting Lavigne, mandated by canon law.

But Scahill said protecting a "multiple-offending abusive cleric" was not the intention of canon law.

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