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Spotlight Report

Law meets with his council on rights of accused priests

By Stephen Kurkjian and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 9/28/2002

Rev. Victor C. LaVoie was accused of abuse. He denies the charges.
The Rev. Victor C. LaVoie refers to it as his ''Nightmare on Lake Street'' - the 15 minutes he spent at the Brighton chancery of the Boston Archdiocese in late July when he was told that he had been accused of fondling a youth more than 20 years ago.

All the church had was a letter from a lawyer; no one from the archdiocese had yet spoken to the alleged victim. LaVoie, a priest for 31 years, denied the charge. Yet he was suspended immediately and told to vacate the rectory at the Church of St. Eulalia in Winchester, where he had been pastor for eight years.

''For one unsubstantiated, uninvestigated, unproven allegation, I am sent off to feel like a leper, an outcast, one to be avoided,'' LaVoie, 57, said Thursday.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law and his principal advisory council yesterday discussed how the church might better inform priests of their rights. The move follows criticism that the suspensions were being ordered with little regard for the canon law rights of priests - their right, for instance to have a lawyer on hand when informed of accusations, and their right to be treated with respect and a presumption of innocence.

The meeting of the Presbyteral Council was private. The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, offered a general sense of the session. ''All the policies and procedures that have been of concern [to the priests] were discussed fully. ... There was a lot of good comment.'' Law ''thought the meeting went very well,'' Coyne said.

One priest who attended the meeting said the Rev. Sean M. Connor, Law's principal investigator on the cases, and two canon law specialists, the Revs. Mark O'Connell and Robert W. Oliver, explained the rules that govern the investigations of clergy abuse..

While no specific cases were discussed, several priests at the meeting complained that some of those suspended had not been treated with dignity, said the priest, who asked not to be identified. In response, Law asked that any priests who felt mistreated should contact the archdiocese.

LaVoie said he was heartened that Law was seeking to draw up a guide for the archdiocese's clergy abuse policy. ''This is something that we should all have had in our hands long ago,'' LaVoie said. ''We are all just one phone call away from having our lives turned upside down.''

No final decisions were made at yesterday's four-hour meeting, attended by about 30 priests, including top members of the cardinal's cabinet. The guide, which will be provided to all archdiocesan priests, may not be ready for several weeks, Coyne said.

This story ran on page B6 of the Boston Globe on 9/28/2002.
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