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Springfield, MA diocese scolded by clergy

By Stefanie Cohen
- Berkshire Eagle
October 26, 2003

LEE -- A Wilbraham priest released a statement Friday asking Catholics to "stand up for life and challenge Bishop [Thomas] Dupre and the Diocese of Springfield to reconsider their handling" of a sexual scandal at St. Mary's Church here.

The Rev. Joseph M. Soranno, pastor of St. Cecilia's Church in Wilbraham, wrote a letter to the editor of The Republican in Springfield and forwarded the letter to The Eagle on Friday.

Call for Christian charity

"I find it confusing that the bishop continues to pay for the medical
insurance and monthly stipend for Fr. Lavigne, Fr. Kennedy, Fr. Meehan,
Fr. Lavelle and other priests who have been suspended for misconduct and
crimes against children, but the diocese does not feel obligated by
Christian charity to pay for the medical needs of an unborn child or its
pregnant mother," Soranno wrote.

In response, diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont said the diocese has, in fact, paid for some of Dizoglio's medical expenses.

"We feel we have met our obligations to this point and will continue to meet our obligations in the future," Dupont said. "I am confused as to how Father Soranno arrived at the conclusion we are not."

The diocese suspended the Rev. Paul LaFlamme of St. Mary's Church in Lee on Oct. 17 after he admitted to having two sexual encounters with Josephine Dizoglio, a 34-year old rectory housekeeper who is now pregnant. Dizoglio has said that LaFlamme is the father of her unborn child, but Dupont denied that LaFlamme has made such an admission.
Attempts to reach LaFlamme were unsuccessful.

Dupont said the diocese would be willing to shoulder some of the expenses of the child after the paternity is determined. A paternity test would not be administered until after the birth of the child.

"We certainly feel bad about the situation, and we continue to be available to this woman," Dupont said. "We will assist her in any reasonable way."

Dizoglio also has accused St. Mary's pastor, the Rev. Gary Dailey, of having told her to "make the problem go away" when he found out she was pregnant.

She alleges that she was the victim of emotional abuse at the hands of Dailey, both before and after he discovered she was pregnant. When Dailey learned of the pregnancy, Dizoglio said that he fired her, tried to have her evicted from her apartment, forbade her to see LaFlamme, and told her she could no longer set foot on church property.

In a speech delivered to parishioners at Masses held last weekend, Dailey called the allegations "untrue and half-true." He said every action he took was in conjunction with the advice of diocesan officials.

'Life issue'

Soranno, who described himself as a "quiet kind of guy," said his letter was not written to contradict the diocese but to take a stand on what he
called a "life issue."

"We are a pro-life church, and we may not appreciate the alleged circumstances, but here is a woman who is pregnant and who was fired. Once again, we are fighting the victim. The unborn child is innocent, and the child needs care, and if the mother's means of support have been taken from her, I don't know how she will get care," he said in an interview Friday.

"I am not trying to challenge the bishop," he said. "But if we stand for life, this is a life issue."

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest and canon lawyer who has been an advocate for survivors of priestly abuse for two decades, also spoke out about the events at St. Mary's.

Doyle, who contacted Dizoglio after reading about her in the press, said Friday: "If the stories in the media describe the pastor's response accurately, and if, in fact, he justifies his actions by saying that he followed the instruction of the diocese, that is a chilling indictment of his lack of awareness and that of the diocese itself.

"It is an indictment against them for their lack of compassion for this woman and illustrates clearly the narcissism and self-centeredness of the celibate, clerical world," he said.

Doyle also condemned the diocese for "doing everything they can to protect clergy abusers."

"They transfer them, lie for them, cover for them, but do nothing for those who have been abused, unless they are forced to by the press or by the courts," he said.

Doyle said the atmosphere within the Catholic Church has opened somewhat since the recent clergy abuse cases have been revealed, which has made it possible for people like Soranno to take a public stand.

"The bishops are like monarchs," he said. "Their diocese is their kingdom. There is no democracy; there is no freedom. If you speak your mind, you can be punished severely. But as more priests are speaking out, the bishops don't want to look worse than they already do."

Dailey is facing possible disciplinary action from the diocese. A meeting between Dailey and the bishop has been delayed until Dupre returns from vacation, within the next two weeks. LaFlamme is on an indefinite administrative leave.

Dizolgio has described the sexual encounters between herself and LaFlamme as "not consensual." When the incidents took place, Dizoglio was going to LaFlamme for counseling.

'Abuse of power'

Ann Webb, a New England coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the encounters an "abuse of power."

"It is abusive in the same way that it would be for a therapist to have sex with a client or a gynecologist and a patient to have sex, only this is even more extreme. This is a confessor, the person who can give you absolution for your sins," Webb said. "He took advantage of her weakened psychological state to have his own sexual needs met."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests