Greenfield lawyer wants clergy abuse investigation 

  • contributed photo—©PAUL FRANZ... contributed photo—©PAUL FRANZ...

  • John Stobierski contributed photo—©PAUL FRANZ...

  • Greenfield lawyer John Stobierski says the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield is overdue for an investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2018 12:34:17 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield lawyer John Stobierski, who has successfully litigated at least 80 cases of clergy sexual abuse, believes the Massachusetts attorney general’s office should investigate the Diocese of Springfield.

“My impression is that our attorney general needs to do an investigation of our area,” Stobierski said Friday. “Back in 2002, when the Boston Globe was reporting on clergy abuse, the attorney general did investigate Boston (diocese).” Despite Stobierski’s request, however, the attorney general refused to do an investigation on Springfield, Stobierski said.

“Our diocese is as ripe with that kind of activity as is Pennsylvania’s,” he said. “And, in our diocese, we’ve had an actual abuser leading the diocese and fighting our claims,” said Stobiersi, referring to the late bishop, Thomas Dupre, who was indicted on child rape charges in 2004.

Recently, a two-year grand jury investigation of sexual abuse allegations by Catholic clergy, and the systematic cover-up of such abuse, resulted in a 900-page report, listing 300 priests accused of abuse and 1,000 children victimized.

In Franklin County, one of the first major reports of clergy sexual abuse began with the 1991 arrest of then-priest Richard R. Lavigne, who pleaded guilty to molesting three boys at St. Joseph’s Parish, in 1992. Eventually, more claims were brought against Lavigne, with Stobierski representing many claimants.

When asked how many clergy abuse cases he has handled, Stobierski estimates filing between 85 and 100 clergy abuse cases against the Diocese of Springfield.

“We represent victims from other dioceses and orders, too, and I estimate that number to be between 100 and 150 including Springfield claims,” he said.

Lavigne wasn’t the only priest named in Stobierski’s lawsuits; other later-defrocked priests were named, including Richard F. Meehan, who had a brief ministry in Turners Falls, and Alfred Graves, a chaplain at the former Farren Memorial Hospital in Montague from October 1977 to June 1981, who held a position at Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield from 1978 to 1981, and was a curate at St. Mary’s Church in Orange from 1967 to 1970. He was also catechism director for Franklin County from 1978 to 1981. Graves was placed on leave by the diocese in 2002 and defrocked in 2006.

In 2004, Stobierski, representing 46 clergy sexual abuse victims, won a $7 million settlement from the Springfield diocese.

Stobierski said he has been working on clergy abuse cases since 2002. When asked how may lawsuits against the diocese he has handled, he said, “well over 100. I don’t keep count, but I’ve spoken to at least twice as many survivors as those who have brought claims.”

Stobierski said he is still hearing from people who report clergy abuse from past years. But he said the process for addressing clergy abuse complaints has become “more arduous these days.”

“When the media attention subsided, the diocese has been less willing to resolve cases,” he said.

Reporting process

Mark Dupont, a diocese spokesman, disagrees.

“Since the 1990s, we have had an abuse reporting and review process, one which has included lay men and women who are mandated reporters,” he said. “We report all cases of alleged abuse to the appropriate authorities. Over the years, we have strengthened these efforts with a dedicated diocesan office and the investigative services of a former Massachusetts State (Police) trooper, as well as making all who are involved in any form of ministry, mandated reporters.”

“As for calling for an investigation of the diocese,” Dupont added, “John Stobierski is forgetting that we were subject to a similar action by the Hampden DA’s (District Attorney’s) Office, following the disclosure of former Bishop Dupre’s past abuse in 2004. At that time, all our records were seized and gone through by investigators,” Dupont said. “Nothing new ever came of that effort.”

In a letter to parishioners last Friday, Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski said that, as bishop, he has had “the somber task” of meeting with abuse victims and their families. “While I cannot undo the great harm done to them, I can promise victims, their loved ones and the entire community that I remain firmly committed to rooting out this evil in our midst.”

He said the failure of any clergy member to adhere to diocese policies would result in their removal. He also gave contact information for anyone wishing to report child sexual abuse by a clergy member.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey couldn’t be reached for direct comment. But in a WBUR Boston radio interview Thursday, Healey said Massachusetts has made changes since the Boston clergy abuse scandal that make it easier for abuse victims to report a crime. For instance, she said, the state has no statute of limitations for child rape to be reported or for assault and battery of a child under age 14.

“We need to get to the bottom and hold accountable those who need to be held accountable, and certainly within the church,” she said. “If anything comes to my attention, we will certainly look to investigate and review that. I have asked my staff to read the Pennsylvania report and see if there’s anything we need to change.”

In the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, other state attorney generals are being called upon to investigate local diocese.

In Missouri, Attorney General Josh Hawley announced he plans to investigate priest sexual abuse in the Diocese of Kansas City. In Minnesota, a lawyer renowned for representing victims of sexual abuse is asking for a Grand Jury investigation of all dioceses there.

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