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Priest Sex Abuse Settlement Reached

The Springfield, Mass., diocese will pay 45 alleged victims more than $7 million.

August 06, 2004|From Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — All but one of 46 people who accused priests of sexually abusing them as children have agreed to accept a more than $7 million settlement with the Diocese of Springfield, a lawyer for the alleged victims and a spokesman for the diocese said Thursday.

"For most of my clients, they want this miserable ordeal to end, so they've had to swallow some pride," plaintiffs lawyer John Stobierski said. "Finality to this saga is more important than additional money."

Stobierski said his clients had been in arbitration meetings to decide the amount of each person's settlement, which would be at least $80,000 and probably average about $150,000. The amount they receive will depend on the type of abuse and how long it lasted.

The diocese also agreed to provide lifetime counseling to victims and appoint a victim of clergy abuse to a lay panel that considered complaints against clergy.

The holdout, Marine Corps Capt. Francis Babeu, said he planned to move forward with his civil suit against the diocese because he wanted church leaders to reveal more about how abuse cases were handled.

"The church hasn't accepted responsibility, especially the leadership, and I want to see them accept responsibility," said Babeu, who said he was abused by defrocked priest Richard Lavigne between the ages of 12 and 17 while Lavigne was at St. Francis of Assisi parish in North Adams.

Babeu, 39, who is stationed in Waco, Texas, also said he did not speak out while he was being abused, and thus allowed two brothers to be molested. Continuing his suit is his way of making up for that, he said.

"I fell short of protecting them in a way an older brother should," Babeu said.

Two dozen of Stobierski's clients said they were abused by Lavigne in the late 1960s and 1970s. The others have accused 17 other priests of abuse between the 1950s and the early 1990s.

Some of the accused priests are dead, and all have been removed from the ministry.

Lavigne, who served 10 years probation after pleading guilty in 1992 to fondling two altar boys, was defrocked by the Vatican. Lavigne also is the only publicly identified suspect in the unsolved 1972 killing of a 13-year-old altar boy, but he has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the death.

The settlement will be about $6.8 million, plus proceeds from the sale of two vacant parcels of land valued at more than $585,000, Stobierski said.

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