SNAP sees more ahead as Diocese of Fall River priest is named in a lawsuit
(For Immediate Release August 25, 2022)
A New Bedford priest is being sued by an Acushnet man who was once an altar boy at St. Anthony of Padua parish for alleged sexual abuse that allegedly took place more than 30 years ago. Father Richard Degagne is suspected of repeatedly sexually abusing Jason Medeiros in a lawsuit that was lodged to Bristol Superior Court in late July. When Medeiros was 12 years old, the claimed attack happened in or near New Bedford and while they were traveling to Maine for the night.
Degagne is one of the three priests whose "credible accusation" of child abuse was substantiated by the Fall River Diocese in December 2021. Degagne was removed in 2019 and will not be returning to work, according to the Diocese at the time, despite the former priest's repudiation of the allegations.
According to the complaint, Degagne, who was ordained in 1982 and is now in his late 60s, was working with St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford from around 1986 until 1991. Before being suspended from ministry, he worked in East Freetown, Attleboro, Fall River, New Bedford, and Taunton. He presently resides in Brownfield, Maine but is still listed on the Diocese of Fall River website as ‘faculties removed’. The lawsuit claims that between the ages of 12 and 13 in the late 1980s, Degagne repeatedly sexually assaulted Medeiros in the rectory and in Degagne's automobile. The lawsuit claims that Degagne also took 12-year-old Medeiros on an overnight visit to Maine in or around 1988 when he allegedly assaulted him.
In our view, this is yet another illustration of how quickly time passes. Bishops and apologists would claim that abuse was historic during the Boston crisis in 2002 by citing the numerous incidents from the 1960s and 1970s and a few cases from the 1980s. The excuse is still used in 2022, but this time they cite "historic" abuse from the 1980s and 1990s.
The courageous victim who presented this case this year has finally "aged into" reporting. He had only turned 20 when the Boston scandal broke. Imagine the countless victims who were like him. By our accounting and since the year 2000, 350 priests have been charged, which represents for only 10% of the abuse. Arrests occurring after 2000 cannot yet be termed "historic." Still in their 20s and 30s, those victims. Reports from the 1990s will become prevalent in a few more years.
Despite the constant rhetoric from church officials that the sexual abuse scandal is a thing of the past, this recent case tells us it is very much a thing of the present and the future. Silence and secrecy are the norms among the church's hierarchs and it guarantees more abuse, more pain, and a greater cost to society.
(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)