Defrocked Catholic priest dies as the District Attorney is preparing to arrest him for murder; SNAP reacts
A Catholic priest who was the prime suspect in the 1972 killing of an altar boy died as law enforcement was preparing to arrest him for the murder. We hope that the closure of the police investigation brings some measure of comfort to the boy's grieving family.
After many years of fighting for justice for their brother Daniel "Danny" Croteau, the end of the nearly 49-year-old case must be a bittersweet development for his family. With new evidence brought to light, the Hampden District Attorney was prepared to arrest Richard Lavigne on murder charges, but the defrocked priest died before he could be charged.
Lavigne, a former Springfield priest, had many accusations of sexually abusing minors lodged against him. He was removed from ministry following his arrest on criminal charges of child sexual abuse in the early 1990s. The clergyman pleaded guilty to two of the counts and was sentenced to 10 years probation. Lavigne was not removed from the priesthood for another decade.
Long considered a prime suspect in this murder, the case is now closed with law enforcement concluding that Lavigne indeed killed Danny, who was just 13 yrs old. However, even during recent interviews with investigators, Lavigne circled his statements in denial. He admitted to being the last person to see Danny alive on the banks of the Chicopee river after he physically assaulted the child there. He also admitted to throwing the weapon he used to attack the boy into the water. Yet Lavigne maintained that it was only when he returned later that he found Danny floating face down in the river.
We are saddened for the Croteau family and can only imagine the years of pain they have endured. We are also disappointed that this former priest and child abuser will evade prosecution for this murder. We wonder how much the Diocese of Springfield knew and when they knew it? During the years that Lavigne remained a free man, we wonder if any Catholic officials knowingly sat on information that could have led to a prosecution and conviction for Danny's murder?
The tragic events of this case are a perfect example of why secular investigations are necessary to unveil the cover-up that is part of the "playbook" for Church leadership. We hope that District Attorney Anthony Gulluni opens a new investigation, this time into the Springfield Diocese. Danny Croteau and his family deserve nothing less.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)