Clergy abuse survivors advocate protests outside Springfield prayer Mass, calls on church for full disclosure
SPRINGFIELD — Robert M. Hoatson has grown accustomed to being a protest of one.
Founder of the clergy abuse survivor advocacy group Road to Recovery, Hoatson, a former priest from Livingston, New Jersey, travels from coast to coast and occasionally overseas. He goes where the cause takes him.
On Thursday, the cause brought him to St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield, where a Mass of healing was about to take place on the heels of recent revelations within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. As the faithful trickled into the church, Hoatson stood outside stoically carrying two large signs.
“THERE R MORE THAN 61,” one read. “RELEASE THE FILES,” read the second.
The first referred to a revised list released Wednesday by the diocese that boosted the number of clergy and laity — both living and dead — credibly accused of sexual abuse. When diocesan officials chose to add lay personnel, dead clergy and religious order priests to a list established a decade ago, the tally jumped from 21 to 61.
Hoatson’s second sign referred to his belief that the diocese is still holding out, and that number is likely higher.
“The very culture that created all this has not changed,” Hoatson said. “We still have secrecy in the church. I’ve been in this work since 1976 and I still think we have just scratched the surface.”
Days before the diocese released the flood of new names, the local church was rocked by the revelation that defrocked priest Richard Lavigne was about to be charged with murder in connection with the 1972 murder of altar boy Daniel “Danny” Croteau when Lavigne died of COVID-19 in a hospital bed in Greenfield.
Lavigne, a convicted child molester responsible for a staggering number of clergy abuse complaints dating back to the 1960s, had long been the prime suspect in 13-year-old Croteau’s murder. He escaped prosecution until he made dying disclosures to a state trooper that placed him at the scene of Croteau’s drowning in the Chicopee River. Investigators found Croteau had been bludgeoned before he was found floating facedown in the water. He was believed to have been one of Lavigne’s abuse victims.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced that his office was poised to seek an arrest warrant for Lavigne hours after the disgraced cleric died.
Bishop William Byrne, installed as the leader of the local diocese in January, has pledged transparency and a focus on healing. Thursday’s Mass was a nod to that promise. In response to Hoatson’s assertions and his presence outside the cathedral, a spokeswoman for the diocese reaffirmed Byrne’s commitment to do better.
“We gather in prayer tonight to support victim survivors in their difficult path to healing and in recognition that yesterday’s expanded disclosure of names likely created additional pain in their existing wounds of trauma. We recognize the frustration of some people who feel that the Diocese was late in making the disclosures and their fears that the disclosures are incomplete,” Carolee McGrath said in a statement.
“As stated yesterday, despite the care taken to provide an accurate and complete list with careful independent review, the list may be imperfect. If any survivor believes that an individual is missing from the list, we urge them to contact us and participate in the review process. We will then update the list to reflect new determinations of credibility. The list is designed to be a living document,” she added.
The diocese has committed to forwarding all allegations of abuse to local district attorneys.
Hoatson said he has received calls from a handful of local victims making fresh disclosures since the revised list of credibly accused clergy and lay personnel was released. He also called on legislators to abolished any statute of limitations for sexual abuse.
“Just like murder of the body, there should be no statute of limitations for murder of the soul,” he said.