AMHERST - Five years ago, when the Rev. Bruce Teague noticed a convicted child molester was hanging around St. Brigid Church, he sent word to his superiors at the Diocese of Springfield.
But after hearing nothing back from the diocese, Teague went to Amherst police, who issued a trespass order, threatening the child molester with arrest if he came back.
Teague said that after his superiors got a copy of the order, he was reprimanded for going outside the church, touching off a dispute with diocesan officials over his leadership of the parish that eventually led to his ouster as pastor.
His transgression? The child molester he turned in was another priest.
“I thought I was doing the right thing, to protect the children,” Teague said. “They [diocese officials] were unhappy with me. I was a whistle-blower, and people got mad at me.”
The diocese recently has cast itself as a leader in aggressively rooting out priests who abuse minors. Following the sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the Archdiocese of Boston and dioceses across the country, Bishop Thomas L. Dupre has suggested that his diocese has fewer problems because it created its own commission to handle wayward priests in 1993. As Dupre said in a statement handed out in the diocese’s 127 parishes last month, “Thanks to that initiative, we are in a relatively good position.”
But that commission was created in direct response to the 1992 conviction of the Rev. Richard Lavigne - the same priest Teague sought to bar from his Amherst parish in 1997. After pleading guilty to indecent assault and battery on a child, Lavigne was placed on 10 years’ probation and ordered by the diocese never to engage in priestly activity again.
The treatment of Teague is just one example of diocesan action and inaction that appears to contradict claims that Dupre has moved forcefully to deal with sexually abusive priests.
For one thing, unlike the Boston Archdiocese, Springfield has so far refused to waive secrecy clauses in cases it has settled with sexual abuse victims so they can talk freely with prosecutors who will decide whether to prosecute any priests.
Moreover, although the diocese says it has removed Lavigne and five other priests from parishes over the last decade, one of them has been assigned to the diocesan Marriage Tribunal. The tribunal hears requests for annulments, which includes the examination of applicants’ sex lives.
“How on earth can priests who have shown themselves to be sexual abusers sit in judgment of married couples?” asks David Keenan, a former Amherst selectman. “This just shows you have a diocese that while holding itself up as a model for others really needs to look in the mirror and get over its arrogance.”
The late Bishop John Marshall, who created the Misconduct Commission, was a hard-liner who refused to let priests found to abuse children back into the church. But Dupre, who replaced Marshall in 1995, created a reentry system that allows ousted priests to request new assignments, though not with children.
In contrast, Cardinal Bernard F. Law has embraced a policy that bars priests who have engaged in sexual misconduct from any assignment at all.
And while the Springfield diocese defrocked one priest, the former Rev. Ronald Malboeuf, it has yet to compensate one of Malboeuf’s victims - 14 years after the man came forward to complain that his life was ruined because Malboeuf sexually abused him. The victim has also presented evidence that Malboeuf conspired to put him in mental institutions so no one would believe him. The victim accuses the diocese of “stringing me along” to weaken his claim for compensation.
Over time, however, it has been the diocese’s treatment of Lavigne that has most divided the clergy and angered the laity. Despite Lavigne’s record, some priests remain friendly with him.
Here in Amherst, there is a group of St. Brigid parishioners who say Teague was eventually forced out because he went over the heads of his superiors to keep Lavigne away from children. At one point, Teague said, Lavigne tried to assist another priest who was hearing children’s confessions. Teague said he told Lavigne to leave.
Lavigne pleaded guilty to molesting two boys in 1992. His actions have cost the diocese untold amounts of money in dozens of settlements handed out to other victims. Even so, the diocese has not defrocked him and continues to pay him.
The Globe has learned that several additional men who say they were victims of Lavigne have recently retained attorneys and intend to make legal claims against the diocese.
Michael Graziano, a diocesan spokesman, said the diocese is required by canon law to pay Lavigne a subsistence stipend. Graziano declined to specify the amount. Nor could he say why the diocese has not defrocked Lavigne.
Graziano referred more detailed questions about Lavigne, including the treatment of Teague, to Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, the diocese’s vicar general. But Sniezyk did not return repeated phone calls.
Michael W. Wiggins, an attorney who says he represented 17 victims of Lavigne who received financial settlements from the diocese, said his clients “would be horrified to learn that Lavigne is still considered a priest and is still being paid.”
Wiggins said that while negotiating the settlements, the diocese insisted on confidentiality agreements, barring him and his clients from discussing their cases with anyone.
Under pressure from Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and five district attorneys whose counties fall within the Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law agreed to release victims from the confidentiality agreements. The secrecy clauses had prevented many victims from speaking with prosecutors so they could determine whether criminal charges should be brought.
Two weeks ago, the Springfield diocese gave prosecutors information about abusive priests, but it has not agreed to waive confidentiality agreements, according to Northwestern first assistant district attorney David Angier.
The system that the Springfield diocese hails as a model is criticized by some as being arbitrary and not tough enough on abusive priests. Victims interviewed by the Globe described an intimidating process that forces them to confront their alleged abusers in front of a nine-member Misconduct Commission, which reports to the bishop. Prosecutors said such a system is unlikely to put a victim at ease and elicit full disclosure.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents several men who recently have come forward to say they were molested by Lavigne when they were boys, said his clients “want nothing to do with a commission that is an arm of the diocese.”
“The diocese doesn’t get it,” said MacLeish. “These people who have been victimized by their turning a blind eye to Father Lavigne all those years want nothing to do with the diocese. They don’t trust the diocese. The fact that the diocese has not seen fit to defrock Father Lavigne says it all. The fact that they let abusers stay in the church says a lot too.”
Keenan, the former Amherst selectman, called the treatment of Teague “scandalous.”
“Here you have a good priest who blew the whistle on a bad priest and it’s the good priest who gets punished,” said Keenan, one of a group of St. Brigid parishioners who have unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Dupre to argue for Teague’s reinstatement.
“Father Teague was driven out of here because he protected children and dared to challenge the diocese about Lavigne while other priests were still socializing with Lavigne, and yet the diocese continues to coddle Father Lavigne, a convicted pedophile. It’s an absolute disgrace,” said Keenan.
Teague said that after clashing over Lavigne, his superiors “made it clear that the diocese didn’t want me there.” He was informed last fall that he would not be reappointed as pastor and has been on leave since.
The Springfield diocese previously confirmed that it has removed six priests from parish work for sexual abuse over the last decade. In response to inquiries from the Globe, the diocese confirmed it removed and also “laicized,” or defrocked, Malboeuf in 1988.
Malboeuf was removed after a North Adams man went to diocese officials to complain that Malboeuf sexually abused him for about five years beginning from the time when he was 10 years old. But 14 years later, the North Adams man is still waiting for compensation from the diocese. In an interview, the man, now 47, described a litany of abuse that began at the hands of Malboeuf and continues at the hands of a system he says is not as effective and sympathetic as the diocese says it is. Globe policy is to not identify such victims unless they approve.
The man said diocese officials urged him to seek counseling but suggested that it would complicate matters if he retained an attorney.
“I was very naive. It turns out they strung me along so the statute of limitations expired. I can’t file a suit, but they won’t offer a settlement that comes anywhere near the amount of money it cost myself and my family,” said the man, who said he suffered physical and emotional problems because of the abuse.
According to correspondence between the man’s former attorney and a diocesan lawyer, the diocese has offered him $20,000.
The victim said he was not Malboeuf’s only victim. He said another man he knows has told him he too was abused by Malboeuf, but doesn’t want to come forward.
“Given the way I’ve been treated,” the victim said, “I can’t say I blame him.”