NEW YORK – Bishop William Byrne of Springfield called the revelation that a former diocesan priest would have been charged with the 1972 murder of an altar boy a “sad closure to a tragic event” that has hung over the faith community for decades.
On Tuesday, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced he was prepared to charge Richard Lavigne in the 1972 murder of 13-year-old Danny Croteau, but he died Friday at the age of 80 before an arrest could be made.
“It is incredibly disheartening to learn that a priest, a person ordained to care for God’s people, would have committed such an evil crime and then not taken responsibility for his actions,” Byrne said in a statement. “This is totally contrary to the teachings that we as Catholics believe and hold sacred.”
Lavigne was a person of interest in the case from the start. Croteau was last seen alive on April 14, 1972. His body was found the next day on the banks of the Chicopee River, and an autopsy thereafter concluded he was killed with a rock.
In interviews with a Massachusetts State Police Trooper from the Hampden District Attorney’s Office from mid-April and May 4, Lavigne didn’t admit specifically to killing Croteau or offer an apology, but did admit to physically assaulting Croteau on the riverbank.
In an audio clip released by the office, Lavigne told the trooper that he doesn’t “remember hitting [Croteau] down by the river bank, but giving him a good shove.” And that he remembers “being heartbroken when I saw his body going down the river.”
“I was angered and sickened to hear Lavigne’s unapologetic admissions in the heinous murder of this innocent child,” 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.”
At the time of his death on Friday, Lavigne had been un-affiliated with the church for some time. He was laicized in 2003 after he pleaded guilty to child molestation in 1992.
Byrne said Tuesday’s revelation serves as “another reminder of our past failures as a church and a diocese to protect children and young adults from such terrible predators in our midst.”
“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,” he continued.
Byrne also acknowledged that while the announcement resolves this case, there may be many other victims of clergy sexual abuse that have yet 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.”
The Diocese of Springfield toll free abuse reporting phone line can be reached at (800) 842-9055, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg