Activists demand diocese release files in Lavigne case

  • Robert Hoatson, co-founder of Road to Recovery, calls on the Diocese of Springfield release all records on Richard Lavigne and other clergy accused of sexual abuse, Tuesday morning, in Springfield. His non-profit organization is a charity based in New Jersey that assists victims of sexual abuse and their families.  STAFF PHOTO/LUIS FIELDMAN

Staff Writer
Published: 5/25/2021 5:29:29 PM

SPRINGFIELD — A day after Hampden County’s top prosecutor publicly concluded that former Catholic priest Richard Lavigne killed 13-year-old Danny Croteau in 1972, advocates for survivors of clergy sexual abuse called on the Diocese of Springfield to release any and all records about Lavigne.

“Once again, we are pleading, asking, demanding of the Bishop that he do the right thing relative not only to the case of Danny Croteau and the files that he has regarding that case from 49 years ago, but we want him to release files of all priests who have been accused of the sexual abuse of children in any way, shape or form,” Robert Hoatson, co-founder of Road to Recovery, said in front of the headquarters of the Diocese of Springfield on Elliot Street.

At the press conference Tuesday morning, Hoatson was joined by Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known Massachusetts lawyer who has represented victims of clergy sexual abuse — including Lavigne’s victims — via speakerphone. Garabedian is demanding that District Attorney Anthony Gulluni’s office investigate the “extent to which the Diocese of Springfield helped former Catholic priest Richard R. Lavigne cover up the murder of Danny Croteau. ”

Garabedian commended Gulluni’s office for gathering new evidence that led his office to pursue an arrest warrant for Lavigne, who died Friday at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. Yet he called on Gulluni to investigate Lavigne’s supervisors at the Diocese of Springfield.

“The Diocese of Springfield cannot wash its hands of this matter,” Garabedian said. “The survivors deserve answers. The Croteau family deserves answers. Answers as to why Father Richard Lavigne was protected by the Diocese of Springfield, and who protected him. Who were his supervisors and why did they protect Richard Lavigne?”

Struggling with the lies

The sole person attending the press conference who was not a member of the press was Maureen O’Sullivan, a classmate of Croteau’s. She said even as a teen she questioned how authorities were handling his case.

“Classmates and other people for years have followed this case and struggled with the past and the lies that have been told,” O’Sullivan said.

Gulluni announced Monday that his office was preparing to present recently gathered evidence to a judge over the weekend in order to obtain an arrest warrant for the 80-year-old Lavigne for the murder of Croteau. At the press conference, Gulluni played newly recorded audio of interviews conducted by Massachusetts state troopers with Lavigne as he lay in the Greenfield hospital this past spring.

Lavigne did not explicitly admit to killing Croteau in the recordings, but he made statements about physically assaulting the 13-year-old the day before his body was found in the Chicopee River. He admitted to seeing boy’s body floating face down in the river but failed to alert anybody about the his whereabouts or condition.

“I don’t remember hitting him down by the riverbank, but giving him a good shove,” Lavigne said on one of the recordings Gulluni presented. When one of the state troopers asked why, Lavigne responded, “because he was being …” before he trailed off.

Lavigne developed a history of sexual abuse in the years following the death of Croteau, who was an altar boy from Springfield. He pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys in 1992, and was placed on probation for 10 years with no jail time; in 1994, the Diocese of Springfield paid $1.4 million to settle 17 sexual abuse complaints made against him. It took the diocese another 10 years to defrock Lavigne.

Since Croteau’s death, Lavigne was the only suspect acknowledged by law enforcement.

‘Secret files’

On Tuesday, Hoatson noted Lavigne was not the only clergyman to be credibly accused of sexual assault. On the website of the Diocese of Springfield, a page is dedicated to clergy within the diocese who have had one or more credible allegations of sexual abuse of a child made against them. Among them are previous bishops Thomas L. Dupre, who was removed from public ministry and is deceased, and Christopher Weldon, who is also deceased.

Hoatson is a former religious brother and priest in the archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, who said he was fired in the early 2000s by his bishop for helping victims of sexual assault. He described himself as a victim/survivor of clergy sexual abuse.

“I testified before the New York legislature and called for the resignation of any bishop who has covered up sex abuse and three days later I was fired,” he said.

After his firing, he became dedicated to helping victims of clergy sexual abuse by founding Road to Recovery, which has worked with over 5,000 families and victims around the globe.

There are secret archives, Hoatson claimed, that every diocese is required to keep and the key to that vault of files is held by the bishop.

“We want Bishop Byrne to open up the file of Richard Lavigne and all the other sexual abusers of Springfield and release them,” Hoatson said referring to the “secret files” in order to bring accountability to abusers and acknowledge survivors who were abused. “Bishop Byrne, do what District Attorney Gulluni did yesterday and tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what was known for 49 years about Father Richard Lavigne and other priests and clergy in the Diocese of Springfield.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at
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