Category Archives: Diocese of Springfield

Judge denies former Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre motion to keep video testimony from public

Judge denies former Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre motion to keep video testimony from public

By Stephanie Barry |
on July 15, 2010 at 5:08 PM, updated July 19, 2010 at 9:19 PM

From the link:

The Republican file photo / Dave RobackThe Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, left, former bishop of the Springfield Catholic Diocese, speaks at a press conference in 2003 about a plan to handle abuse by priests. A year later he was accused of molesting two boys in Holyoke.

The Republican file photo / Dave RobackThe Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, left, former bishop of the Springfield Catholic Diocese, speaks at a press conference in 2003 about a plan to handle abuse by priests. A year later he was accused of molesting two boys in Holyoke.

SPRINGFIELD – As his defense lawyer feared, a videotaped deposition of disgraced Bishop Thomas L. Dupre may soon make the Internet in the wink of a cybereye, after a Hampden Superior Court judge denied his motion to keep the interview from the public.

During a court hearing on Wednesday, lawyers wrangled over whether a three-hour interview taped in connection with a civil lawsuit against Dupre and other church officials should be made available for public consumption.

Dupre’s lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, argued that the interview featured his client asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself for three hours, and that making it public would serve no other purpose than to embarrass him.

“It will only serve to cause him embarrassment, harassment, or perhaps worse. This will be on the Internet by tomorrow night,” Jennings told Judge Bertha D. Josephson, who was apparently unconvinced by the argument and denied the motion on Thursday afternoon.

Dupre was bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield until 2004 when he retired overnight and fled to a Maryland treatment center for priests amid molestation allegations. Two men later sued him for sexually abusing them during the 1970s while they were teens and Dupre was a parish priest. The prelate eventually settled out of court with his accusers for an undisclosed sum.

Dupre was in 2004 charged with child rape in connection with the allegations, but the prosecution stalled because the case was so old.

More recently, the prelate was named in a lawsuit by a Williamstown man who said Dupre and other church officials failed to properly supervise a priest who molested him during the 1980s. Plaintiffs’ lawyer John J. Stobierski conducted a videotaped interview on April 16 in connection with that complaint.

After stating his name and date of birth, Dupre pleaded the fifth in response to three hours of questions, Stobierski said. According to local Catholic officials, he has voluntarily retired from any public ministry.

However, Stobierski said Dupre wore his clerical collar throughout the interview. The lawyer opposed Jennings’ motion to keep the deposition under wraps, and said he was pleased with Josephson’s ruling.

“We think it’s consistent with the law as well as the spirit of openness in these matters,” Stobierski said.

Jennings said he may appeal the ruling. Stobierski said he will give the defense lawyer until Monday to consider that, and will disseminate the video then if he declines to appeal.

Dupre Deposition Transcript

Bishop Indicted For Child Rape

Bishop Indicted For Child Rape

Murder Haunts Catholic Church Charges Of Sexual Abuse Reopens An Old Murder Investigation

Murder Haunts Catholic Church

Charges Of Sexual Abuse Reopens An Old Murder Investigation

Correspondent Rebecca Leung

May 24, 2005

From the link:

File photo / The RepublicanCarl and Bernice Croteau stand in front of a portrait of their murdered son, Danny, in their Springfield home in this 2003 photo.

File photo / The RepublicanCarl and Bernice Croteau stand in front of a portrait of their murdered son, Danny, in their Springfield home in this 2003 photo.

Danny Croteau, a 13-year-old altar boy from Springfield, Mass., was murdered — a murder most foul. His body was found bloodied, battered and floating in a river.

A suspect was identified almost immediately. It was someone who knew Danny and his family well. But that suspect was never arrested, and still lives only a few miles away.

What makes all of this remarkable is that Croteau’s murder happened 33 years ago. Now, an investigation has been re-opened into the case that has tortured Springfield, its police force, and Danny’s parents ever since. reports.

“I still hear Danny hailing for help. It’s horrible,” says Danny’s mother, Bunny. She and Danny’s father, Carl, are haunted by their son’s murder.

“It’s just been a nightmare,” says Carl Croteau.

The Croteaus had seven children, including five boys. Danny was their youngest son.

“What did the police tell you when they first came,” asks Rather.

“Well, they said that Danny had been in trouble,” recalls Carl Croteau. “And I say, ‘What do you mean … did he do something wrong?’ And they said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘It’s worse than that.’ He says, ‘We found him, murdered and floating in the Chicopee River.'”

The parents couldn’t imagine who would murder their son, and neither could police. Former State Det. Ed Harrington, who helped investigate the case, took 60 Minutes Wednesday to the spot where Danny’s body was found.

“Adjacent to the body was a rock that we believe was used to smash his head in,” says Harrington, who believes that was the murder instrument.

As soon as they heard the awful news, the Croteaus, devout Roman Catholics, turned to their parish priest, Father Richard Lavigne. Danny had been an altar boy for Father Lavigne.

“He used to come over to the house three, four times a week,” says Carl Croteau. “Wasn’t a weekend passed that Danny wouldn’t be with him.”

Lavigne identified Danny’s body to police and participated in the funeral Mass. But soon after Danny’s burial, the man who had been the family’s comfort and support became something else: a suspect.

“Within five to seven days, information had been developed that a family friend, Richard Lavigne, who was a parish priest, might be involved,” says Harrington.

Was he the only suspect? “The only one that I was ever aware of,” says Harrington. “That was ever investigated.”

Harrington cites circumstantial evidence against Lavigne, including the fact that Lavigne denied ever having been alone with Danny. A police report said officers quickly learned that “Danny and Father Lavigne were often alone.” The report also said the priest asked questions that police believed “were consistent with those that are often asked by the perpetrator of a crime.” But with no witnesses and no firm physical evidence, the district attorney at the time chose not to prosecute Lavigne. Harrington concurred.

“The fear was that if we tried to bring it to trial, we wouldn’t have enough evidence and lose it,” says Harrington. “And then, of course, we’d never be able to bring him to trial again.”

“So you were convinced he did it, but you were convinced you couldn’t get a conviction?” asks Rather.

“Correct,” says Harrington.

At the time, Lavigne insisted he was innocent and still does. While he refused to speak on camera, his lawyers sent 60 Minutes Wednesday a letter listing powerful, concrete evidence of his own, including “the tire tread marks left at the scene of the crime…did not match the tires on Richard Lavigne’s car or his family’s car.” They also point out that a DNA analysis of “blood found at the crime scene…was not Richard Lavigne’s blood.”

And at the time of the crime, Lavigne was a respected figure in the community. Carl Croteau says the district attorney told him, “‘Where could I get 12 jurors to convict a Catholic priest?'”

For two decades after Danny’s murder, Lavigne continued to work quietly in the diocese of Springfield until 1991. That’s when men began coming forward to charge that Lavigne had sexually molested them when they were boys. First, a group of five men made the charges. Later, others followed, 43 in all.

Danny’s friends, Steve Block and Tom Martin, claimed that the parish priest had a motive for the murder, to hide a dark secret that Danny was threatening to tell.

“He told me that he hated Father Lavigne and he hurt him,” says Martin. “And I knew exactly what that meant.”

What that meant, Martin charges, was that Lavigne was sexually abusing Danny, just as he had molested Martin and other boys at the church. “He forced me into oral sex on him twice,” says Martin, when he was 8.

“He actually invited me over to the rectory to make breakfast. And at that point is when he took the initiative to move me into another room, sexually assault me,” adds Block, who says this happened when he was 12. “And told me ‘Christ suffered and so should I?’ Things like that.”

Were they aware that there were other boys being abused?

“The only time that I ever spoke about it was with Steven, and the only thing we ever said to each other was ‘Is he doing the same thing to you?'” says Martin. “And the only other person that ever said anything to me about Father Lavigne was Danny Croteau.”

Danny’s parents say that soon after the murder, three of their other sons admitted that Lavigne had sexually molested them, too. The family did not go public with those allegations at the time. But when some of the other victims did go public years later, Lavigne was charged with criminal sexual abuse. At first, he claimed innocence.

But then, he changed his plea to guilty when he was offered a deal: admit to molesting two boys in return for no jail time, no new prosecutions for sex crimes committed earlier, and 10 years probation, including treatment at Saint Luke’s in Maryland, a hospital specializing in therapy for pedophile priests.

After seven months there, Lavigne returned to the Springfield diocese, where the diocese wrote: “Lavigne would no longer be able to function nor present himself as a priest.” But he was not formally defrocked, despite being listed as a Level 3 sex offender, and designated a high risk to re-offend. He continued to be paid a monthly salary of over $1,000 plus benefits, even as the diocese paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits filed by his abuse victims.

“You know, I was an altar boy myself, and I never had an inkling that a priest would ever abuse anybody, never mind murder anybody,” says Carl Croteau.

The molestation case caused police to look into Danny’s murder again, but they said they still didn’t have enough evidence to bring charges against Lavigne. That didn’t end the outrage in the community, though.

Springfield resident Warren Mason wanted the diocese to take action: “I’m the father of three young, healthy boys. And to see that, I’d look at them and I’d say, ‘How could somebody do this to an innocent child?'”

In 2002, Mason took his concerns to his local parish, St. Michael’s, located less than five miles from Lavigne’s old church. To his surprise, he found a receptive audience.

“Molestation of children is evil and there’s no other name for it,” says Sister Mary McGeer. “When we cover it up, it’s evil. When people cover it up, the people that are covering it up are evil.”

Then, Mason met with the Rev. James Scahill, pastor of St. Michael’s, and made a radical proposal: that the congregation withhold from the Springfield diocese the 6 percent contribution that every parish is required to send up to its bishop, until and unless Father Lavigne was defrocked and removed from the diocese payroll.

“I told him at that meeting that as long as Father Richard Lavigne was receiving any sustenance from the diocese, I wouldn’t give any money to the church, and I flippantly said, ‘Hold back the 6 percent,'” says Mason. “And father looked like he was gonna pass out about that point in time.”

Even so, Scahill agreed to submit that ultimatum to the head of the Springfield diocese, Bishop Thomas Dupre. The bishop’s spokesman characterizes the bishop’s reaction as “disappointed.”

Scahill describes him as furious: “He said what? And I told him again. And he said, ‘You cannot do that.’ He says, ‘There’s no conversation relative to this matter. You absolutely cannot do that.'”

Scahill says that Dupre threatened to suspend him. And McGeer says other local priests treated him as a traitor.

Why isn’t there widespread support? “There’s a very strong silence that goes on in that priesthood,” says McGeer. “As a result, priests are not breaking that silence. They’re staying together with it.”

“The church must become accountable. The church must change,” says Scahill, who spread the message by speaking out for victims of sexual abuse and against Dupre. McGeer encouraged church members to support their cause. Mason bombarded newspapers with letters demanding that the bishop defrock Lavigne.

In January 2003, the Springfield diocese initiated procedures to remove Lavigne. Then in October 2003, Scahill received a phone call from a concerned mother. She had been following the news about his battles with the bishop, and she had something Scahill needed to know.

“[She said] that her son and one of his friends had been abused by Bishop Dupre,” says Scahill.

Scahill met the two men, who repeated the charges. Then reporter Bill Zajac of the Springfield Republic got wind of the allegations. And in February 2004, he asked Dupre to respond.

“The next morning, I woke up and then I heard the news that the bishop had resigned his position and he had checked himself into a hospital the night before,” says Zajac.

Seven months later, Dupre was indicted for statutory rape, the first U.S. Roman Catholic bishop to be charged with sexual abuse. He pleaded not guilty, and the charges were later dropped because the statute of limitations had expired.

Shortly before Dupre’s resignation, Lavigne was defrocked and soon afterward his financial support ended. The diocese told 60 Minutes Wednesday the public pressure had nothing to do with it. But McGeer disagrees: “I do believe Richard Lavigne would still be a priest and that Thomas Dupre would still be the bishop in Springfield, had we not taken some action.”

Last summer, Scahill and his congregation celebrated their victory. “We have the belief that what we have done at St. Michael’s has made children safer for all times and victims have been given voice to begin their healing,” says Scahill.

The investigation into Danny Croteau’s murder was reopened two years ago, but some detectives fear that too much time has passed, that not enough new evidence can be found to bring charges. And Lavigne – no longer Father Lavigne — still lives in Springfield. And Carl and Bunny Croteau still attend Catholic Mass every day.

That Dupre is still a Catholic bishop in good standing 15 months after his resignation, his whereabouts unknown, is both troubling and disgraceful. Have the Croteau’s thought about leaving the church?

“No,” says Bunny Croteau.

“You’re convinced that a priest killed one of your sons. He sexually abused three others. The hierarchy of the church covered it up in a conspiracy. You’re convinced,” says Rather. “But you stick in. You stay in.”

“They can’t take God away from us,” says Bunny Croteau. “That’s the one thing they can’t have.”

Court documents reveal altar boy’s ordeal

Court documents reveal altar boy’s ordeal

By The Republican Newsroom  
on February 21, 2008 at 8:15 PM, updated February 21, 2008 at 8:32 PM

From the link:

File photo / The RepublicanCarl and Bernice Croteau stand in front of a portrait of their murdered son, Danny, in their Springfield home in this 2003 photo.

File photo / The RepublicanCarl and Bernice Croteau stand in front of a portrait of their murdered son, Danny, in their Springfield home in this 2003 photo.

SPRINGFIELD – About a week before Daniel Croteau’s lifeless body was recovered under a bridge in 1972, he returned home listless and nauseous from an overnight visit with his parish priest.

According to a statement his mother gave to police that year, the 13-year-old had left his house, smartly dressed, one night in April.

“He wore his knit shirt, tie, and herringbone jacket with a fur collar. He said that he was going to go someplace with Father Lavigne,” the statement by Bernice Croteau, taken on Aug. 7, 1972, reads. “That was the last we heard of him that evening until we received a call from Father (Richard) Lavigne, it was around 11:30 p.m. … and the father asked me if (Danny) could stay over that night.”

The statement was among 115 pages of documents released by the Hampden County district attorney’s office this week after a judge ordered the files unsealed. The documents include an overture to investigators from an astrologer, witness statements recounting dream visions and dying wishes, a jailhouse interview with a convicted priest from California, and wrenching accounts of Daniel Croteau’s allegedly volatile relationship with Lavigne.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini that the files be opened came in a civil dispute between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and its insurance carriers, which are resisting paying for settlements with victims of clergy abuse – many of whom say that Lavigne molested them.

The paperwork includes haunting images through witness statements spanning the 30 years since Croteau was killed and as law enforcement officials pursued a thus-far fruitless search for the boy’s killer.

The only suspect ever publicly identified was Lavigne, a now-defrocked priest, whom family members and friends said had a close and complicated relationship with Danny Croteau.

Lawyers for Lavigne have vehemently denied that their client was involved, even sending out a press release earlier this year entitled: “Richard Lavigne did not murder Daniel Croteau.”

The morning after Danny Croteau’s overnight stay with Lavigne in April 1972, Bernice “Bunny” Croteau told police, her son returned home, saying he felt ill.

“He didn’t say too much … he just laid around for a while and complained about his stomach … Towards evening he told me he had vomited several times,” the statement reads.

Several witnesses, including one who said he was Danny Croteau’s best friend, told police that Lavigne tried to ply them with liquor. He gave a statement in 1991, when Lavigne was under investigation for molesting boys in Franklin County.

“After the Mass, Father Lavigne would always offer us wine in the chalice … Father Lavigne would joke around a little and encourage us to drink the wine. I remember this because I didn’t like the wine, but Danny seemed to,” a witness, whose name was redacted from the statement, told police.

Investigators have said that Croteau’s alcohol blood level was .21, twice the legal limit, at the time of his death.

The witness also said that he and Croteau were altar boys for Lavigne at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Sixteen Acres.

“I found it strange that the other two priests never watched us change, but Father Lavigne always did,” the witness said. “In fact, he helped us by assisting us pull off the robes. … We thought Father Lavigne was a cool guy. He didn’t act like a priest. He acted like a playboy, very carefree and never serious outside the church.”

He added that he often spied Lavigne watching their street hockey games from a parked car.

“Danny would say, ‘I have to go,’ and he would run to the car crying with no further explanation. Danny told me that Father Lavigne was his uncle and that’s why I never thought any more about it. This would happen alot (sic) and Danny was with Father Lavigne alot (sic),” the statement reads.

Lavigne pleaded guilty in 1992 to two counts of molesting male parishioners. He was sentenced to 10 years’ probation; Lavigne was defrocked in 2005 after abuse accusations against him persisted and the diocese paid out millions to settle claims against him and other clerics.

The newly released documents show that many witnesses who claimed they had information about the Croteau killing came forward in the early 1990s. They included a woman whose recollections were memorialized in a spidery, handwritten statement in 1992.

She claims that Croteau appeared at her door in Chicopee one cold and windy night, shortly before he was killed.

“He was very polite and he asked me if he could use the phone to call father in Williamansette (sic). He refused a ride he said father would be right there,” said the witness, whose name also was blacked out in the documents. “I didn’t hear the conversation. It wasn’t long before he hung up then went outside. I turned the lights off then went to work.”

In the statement, dated Dec. 1, 1992, the witness said she told police of the encounter 30 years earlier, when she saw Croteau’s picture on the news after his body was found.

The teen was found face-down on the banks of the Chicopee River on April 15, 1972. He had been bludgeoned to death.

The records unsealed after Agostini’s order show Lavigne told certain people he was a suspect in the case, including a fellow priest who gave a statement to police in 1993.

“He was clearly looking for information about what was being said in Chicopee because we shared neighboring parishes,” the unnamed priest said of a flurry of telephone calls from Lavigne in the days following Croteau’s funeral. “(Another priest) also told me that he had a lot of communication with Father Lavigne during this whole time and that is what he agreed with me that (Lavigne) could be having a breakdown.”

Later in the same statement, the priest said, “(We) were confused as to whether or not Father Lavigne was involved in the murder because Father Lavigne had such conflict with members of the Springfield Police Department but we were both very uncertain, unclear and incapable of believing that any priest would be involved in a murder.”

Lawyers for Lavigne have repeatedly maintained that Lavigne passed the second of two lie detector tests administered by police; tire tracks at the scene did not match the tread on the tires of Lavigne’s Ford Mustang; DNA evidence found at the scene did not conclusively link Lavigne; and called into question the credibility and timing of certain witness statements.

Indeed, these records show overtures from the public included offers of help from an astrologer and statements from a woman who told police she resurrected images of Lavigne at the murder scene through hypnosis.

One individual told police in 2004 that she had spotted a boy in a yellow raincoat lying beneath the bridge where Croteau’s body was found.

“He was laying on his stomach with both arms bent over his head on the side. I could only see a left leg, which was bent. He looked like he was asleep. I saw a priest standing over him,” the woman told police of her reported sighting on April 12, 1972. “I remarked to my father that the kid must have fallen asleep and the priest was trying to wake him up. My father commented that if he was tired, the priest should have taken him home. I thought no more of it.”

The four-page statement recounts the witness’s encounters with the then-bishop, the Most Rev. Christopher J. Weldon, who is now dead, and then-District Attorney Matthew J. Ryan Jr.

She told police that Weldon threatened to excommunicate her father from the church. Ryan said there was no evidence to support her claim, according to her statement, and told her that he could arrest her for filing a false report if she pursued her claims.

The statement says it was her father’s dying wish that she remain quiet on what she has reported seeing. The final paragraph reads:

“That’s it. I’ll have to live with the guilt that I didn’t come forward sooner, but I was honoring a promise to my father.”

Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett, who fought the release of these files and others related to the Croteau case, was unavailable to discuss the documents today. However, a spokeswoman for him said he would answer questions during a press conference tomorrow.

Before the insurance companies sought the release of these records, The Republican fought a year-long court battle to open 2,000 pages of files related to the Croteau case.

Bernice Croteau’s statement to Chicopee police also details conversations she and her husband had with Lavigne on the night her son disappeared.

“At about 10:30 p.m. I spoke to Father Lavigne on the telephone. I don’t remember if I called him or if he had called me. I told him that (Danny) hadn’t arrived home, and asked if he had heard or had seen him and he said that he didn’t see him,” she told police on Aug. 7, 1972.

She also went to the home of her son’s scoutmaster to see if Danny was there, she said.

“I went home and when I arrived home, my husband told me that he received a call from Father Lavigne, that Father Lavigne asked if (Danny) had been found yet, and when my husband answered no, there was silence at the other end of the line.”

Croteau’s body was recovered the next morning, with a bloody stone, the apparent murder weapon, lying a few feet away.

Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who represents clergy abuse victims as well as Bernice and Carl E. Croteau, Danny’s parents, said the documents raise new questions about the altar boy’s death.

“There is a significant amount of circumstantial evidence in these statements, though I have yet to see a smoking gun,” Stobierski said. “I’m sure the question for the district attorney is: is there enough circumstantial evidence to gain a conviction.”