Diocese adds new credible findings against late, defrocked priest Richard Lavigne 

Richard Lavigne, a convicted sex offender and former Shelburne Falls priest, is believed to have killed a 13-year-old altar boy in 1972.

Richard Lavigne, a convicted sex offender and former Shelburne Falls priest, is believed to have killed a 13-year-old altar boy in 1972. FILE PHOTO

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-06-2023 4:40 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield this week acknowledged new credible findings against the late Richard Lavigne, a convicted sex offender and former Shelburne Falls priest believed to have killed a 13-year-old altar boy in 1972.

The diocese issued a statement on Oct. 31 to announce an update on Lavigne, as well as on the late Stigmatine priest Joseph E. Flood and the late Rev. J. Victor Carrier.

“Out of respect for the privacy of the survivor, no further details will be released at this time,” Carolee McGrath, a diocese spokesperson wrote in an email regarding Lavigne’s case.

Lavigne and Flood were already listed on the diocese’s “Findings of Credibility of Allegations of Sexual Abuse of a Minor,” and Carrier’s name was recently added based on a credible finding by the diocesan Review Board. The diocese’s statement mentions that an allegation being found credible does not equal a finding of guilt, and none of the men are alive to respond to the allegations.

Lavigne died on May 21, 2021, at age 80. The former priest, who was ordained in 1966, pleaded guilty in 1992 to sexually abusing two boys. He avoided jail time and received 10 years probation.

The diocese paid $1.4 million in 1994 to settle 17 sex abuse complaints made against Lavigne. According to previous reporting by the Gazette, he continued to receive a stipend until he was defrocked, or removed from the priesthood, by the diocese 10 years later.

Lavigne also was the lone acknowledged suspect after the body of Danny Croteau, an altar boy in Springfield, was found floating in the Chicopee River in 1972, having been beaten to death with a blunt object. Lavigne met Croteau’s family in 1967, while assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Springfield. He was assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Springfield in 1968, but remained close with the family. The diocese eventually placed Lavigne in St. Joseph’s Parish in Shelburne Falls, where he was priest when he was arrested on the sexual abuse charges in 1991.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni explained in 2021 that Lavigne would take Croteau and some of his four brothers on outings, sometimes inviting them to stay overnight at his parents’ home in Chicopee. Lavigne became an early suspect in Croteau’s killing, Gulluni explained a couple of years ago, because he lied about the last time he had seen Croteau and was seen by the riverbank the day after Croteau’s body was discovered. Lavigne died in a Greenfield hospital facility hours after Gulluni’s office began preparing to present evidence to a judge to obtain an arrest warrant in connection to the teenager’s death.

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The Rev. William Lunney, who has been the priest at St. Joseph’s Parish in Shelburne Falls for six years, said that, “If the diocese says it’s a credible accusation, then we believe it’s a credible accusation.”

The diocese encourages anyone with information on misconduct to report it directly to law enforcement as well as to the diocese’s Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance at 413-452-0624, via the hotline 1-800-842-9055 or by email to reportabuse@diospringfield.org.

The diocese’s “Findings of Credibility of Allegations of Sexual Abuse of a Minor” can be viewed at bit.ly/3MnaxmL.

In regards to the diocese’s other updates, the allegation against Carrier dates back to 1981 to 1982 and involved a minor. He was ordained in 1969 and died in 2011.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.