Word that Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni was poised to criminally charge former Catholic priest Richard R. Lavigne with the 1972 murder of 13-year-old Danny Croteau when Lavigne died last week tore open a painful chapter for Croteau’s family and many of Lavigne’s other sexual abuse victims.
Attorney John Stobierski, a Greenfield attorney who represented Croteau’s late parents for decades as they urged prosecutors to hold his killer accountable, said Monday that Gulluni’s announcement that there was overwhelming evidence linking Lavigne to the slaying marked a “good day,” but it was sad that it had taken so long.
“There’s a great injustice done here,” said Stobierski, who has represented more than 25 of Lavigne’s abuse victims.”This helps, but it has not told us why it happened and how the levels of power kept it silent.”
He urged Gulluni’s office to publicly release all of the investigative materials it has gathered related to Danny Croteau’s slaying “because the family and the public have a right to know, particularly if there is any documentation of a great corruption in keeping this matter quiet for all these years, unresolved.”
Law enforcement officials estimated Lavigne molested over 250 people from the 1960s through the 1990s, Stobierski said. Yet, it was revealed during civil proceedings that secret files detailing complaints against Lavigne and other priests were destroyed by two bishops, Thomas Dupre and Christopher Weldon, who were both later implicated in the clergy sexual abuse scandal, he said. Both men are now deceased.
“There is something amiss that this could be kept this quiet this long,” Stobierski said. “I think the answers are somewhere in the Diocese of Springfield.”
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known lawyer for clergy sexual abuse victims who’s represented some of Lavigne’s victims in civil proceedings, said in a statement Monday that more questions need to be answered.
“Sexual abuse survivors from around the country have contacted me today to express sympathy for the Croteau family,” Garabedian said. “Many survivors feel cheated because former Catholic priest Richard R. Lavigne will not spend the rest of his life in jail.”
Lavigne was removed from active ministry in 1991, when he was charged with sexually abusing children. But even after his 1992 conviction, leaders of the Springfield Diocese did not push to have him laicized. Under pressure from Lavigne’s victims and their supporters, the Vatican defrocked him in 2003, the Globe has reported.
The diocese paid 17 of Lavigne’s victims $1.4 million in a 1994 settlement and paid out an additional $7.7 million to 46 victims in 2004, the Globe has reported. Other litigation was also pursued against the church and Lavigne, records show.
Garabedian said Monday that Gulluni’s office should “investigate the extent to which the Diocese of Springfield helped former Catholic priest Richard R. Lavigne cover up the murder of Danny Croteau.”
Springfield Bishop William D. Byrne said in a separate statement Monday that the news that Gulluni “was prepared to charge Richard Lavigne in the murder of Danny Croteau in 1972 brings sad closure to a tragic event which I know has hung over our faith community for decades. I was angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions in the heinous murder of this innocent child.”
Byrne said the case is also “another reminder of our past failures” in the church.
“Although we have made great strides in improving our child protection efforts, that is little consolation to the victims of Richard Lavigne and the numerous other sexual predator clergy who preyed upon our youth,” Byrne said. “I want to extend my personal and sincerest apology to the Croteau family and know that they will be in my prayers; especially Danny’s loving parents who sadly did not live to see this tragic matter resolved.”
He added that he’s “mindful” there may be additional victims of clergy abuse who’ve declined to come forward.
“My message to them is that even if your abuser is deceased, you can still report the abuse you suffered to law enforcement and to the diocese,” Byrne said. “It is important that you be heard and that we acknowledge your suffering and trauma. You can reach out to the diocese via our toll free abuse reporting phone line (800)842-9055 or via email at email@example.com.”
Croteau’s brother, Joe Croteau, told reporters Monday that while Lavigne escaped consequences for his innocent sibling’s murder in this life, he’ll have to reckon with the unspeakable crime in the next one.
“We’re disappointed that he’s not being brought to justice,” Joe Croteau said. “But just like the district attorney, we believe there’s a higher power, and he will face that higher power now.”
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @shelleymurph. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JREbosglobe.