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Spotlight Report

Springfield bishop denies retaliation claim

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 3/25/2002

Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, the leader of the Diocese of Springfield, has denied that church officials retaliated against a priest who went to police because the diocese failed to act when warned that another priest convicted of molesting children was hanging around an Amherst church.

In a statement issued Saturday, Dupre said that the Rev. Bruce Teague, the former pastor of St. Brigid Church in Amherst, was allowed to go on leave for ''personal reasons.'' He said Teague's initial letter warning the diocese about the other priest ''was never considered'' when the diocese decided not to reappoint him as pastor.

''Father Teague is aware of my reasons and they relate solely to the needs of the parish and his performance as pastor,'' Dupre said in the statement. ''If he is willing to give me permission, I will be happy to set forth those reasons publicly.''

Teague said in an interview with the Globe that diocesan officials criticized his management style as pastor and questioned his frequent trips to Cambridge, where his chronically ill father is living.

Dupre was responding to a story in Saturday's Globe reporting that Teague said his superiors in the diocese rebuked him after he turned in the Rev. Richard Lavigne. Teague said the dispute over Lavigne, and his going over the head of his superiors after they did not respond to his initial warning, touched off a dispute over his leadership of the parish that eventually led to his ouster as pastor.

Despite Dupre's denial, a group of St. Brigid parishioners yesterday accused the bishop of ducking a series of questions raised in the Globe article, which quoted critics who challenged the bishop's assertion that the diocese has been more aggressive than others in dealing with accusations against sexually abusive priests.

In his statement, Dupre also disputed assertions by prosecutors quoted in Saturday's Globe that the diocese had not waived confidentiality agreements freeing victims of abuse to speak with prosecutors.

Steve Nagy, a parishoner who leads the Amherst council of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, said Dupre failed to respond to questions about why Lavigne has not been defrocked and why other priests who have been found to sexually abuse children are allowed to get different assignments as long as they don't come into direct contact with children.

''The bishop is trying to deflect attention from the real issues here by acting as if Father Bruce said the only reason he was let go was because he went to the police about Father Lavigne. Father Bruce never said that. He said it's what started all his troubles with the diocese,'' said Nagy. ''We in the parish would like answers to all the questions that have been raised.''

Diocese officials did not respond to initial Globe requests for a response to Teague's assertions. In his statement Saturday, Dupre did not respond to Teague's assertion that he went to police only after diocese officials failed to act when he wrote them about Lavigne's presence at the Amherst church despite Lavigne's 1992 conviction of molesting two boys. Lavigne was placed on 10 years' probation and was ordered by the diocese not to engage in priestly activity, but Teague became concerned when Lavigne appeared at the church in 1996.

Dupre said that since his conviction, ''Father Lavigne has not had nor will he ever receive an assignment in the diocese or elsewhere.''

But Dupre did not explain why the diocese has not moved to defrock Lavigne and continues to pay him an undisclosed salary. A diocese spokesman said the pay, which he called minimal, is required by Canon Law.

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 3/25/2002.
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