Accusations against three Fall River Catholic priests are deemed "credible" - SNAP reacts
Frs. James Buckley, Edward Byington, and Richard Degagne have been added to the list of clergy "credibly accused" of sexual abuse maintained by the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts. According to the Diocese, Fr. Degagne had been suspended since 2019, and Frs. Buckley and Byington since 2020. Although all three priests have denied the allegations against them, we know that false accusations of child sexual abuse are extremely rare. We stand with the extremely brave victims who came forward and who have now finally been vindicated.
Fr. Buckley was ordained in 1959 and was already retired at the time of his suspension. He worked at three Fall River churches, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sacred Heart, and Immaculate Conception, as well as St. Joan of Arc in Orleans, St. Augustine in Vineyard Haven, St. Margaret in Buzzards Bay, and Holy Redeemer in Chatham.
Fr. Byington was ordained in 1970 and was also already retired at the time of his suspension. His assignments included St. John in Attleboro, Sacred Heart in Taunton, St. Patrick in Fall River, St. Paul in Taunton, St. George in Westport, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Seekonk, Girl Scouts of America in the Attleboro area, Sacred Heart in Fall River, St. Francis in Hyannis, and St. Thomas More in Somerset.
Fr. Degagne was ordained in 1982 and was the pastor of Immaculate Conception in North Easton when he was suspended. He previously worked at St. John in Attleboro, Holy Name in Fall River, St. Anthony of Padua in New Bedford, Notre Dame in Fall River, Sacred Heart in North Attleboro, Immaculate Conception in Taunton, and St. John Neumann in East Freetown.
Survivor Richard Eldridge, who came forward publicly last month, said Fr. Byington sexually abused him when he was a teenager in the 1970s. The assaults took place at a convent following a religious retreat, and the nuns tried to prevent the priest from taking him upstairs. According to attorney Mitchell Garabedian, Richard's accusations were reconsidered after a second victim also came forward.
A victim who accused Fr. Degagne said that he was sexually abused between 1972 and 1973 before the priest was ordained and while he worked as a camp counselor at Cathedral Camp in Freetown, which is run by the Diocese.
These claims are a clear-cut example as to why it is never too late for survivors to come forward. The devastation of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy, brothers, nuns, lay employees, or volunteers is a life-long sentence. We know that it is often extremely difficult for a victim of child sex abuse to speak out about their abuse until later in life. The average age for an individual to disclose such a horrifying experience is 52. We are extremely grateful for the bravery of the survivors of Frs. Buckley, Byington, and Degagne came forward and sought the justice they deserve.
We are also grateful for states like Massachusetts, which clearly saw that the perpetrators of child sex crimes and the institutions that protected them had benefited from short statutes of limitations and reformed their laws. Since the Boston Globe's ground-breaking coverage of abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002, SOLs have been extended or eliminated and civil look-back windows have been opened across the country. To us, the problem is clear and the best solution is simple: all states need to eliminate the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, criminal and civil, going forward, and open permanent civil "windows to justice" to allow time-barred survivors to name their abuser in public, begin to heal, and protect today's children.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for more than 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org.)