Prominent priest will fight suits

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

The Rev. Francis P. Lavelle, pastor of one of the most prestigious churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, is being accused by two men of sexually abusing them when they were minors.

But Lavelle, pastor of St. Mary Church in Longmeadow, says the charges are false and he is prepared to defend himself against them, according to his lawyer.

The men filed suit in Hampden Superior Court yesterday against the Diocese of Springfield and Lavelle.

One man accuses Lavelle of molesting him several times and sodomizing him once. The other man said he was assaulted twice in one day.

Lavelle was unavailable for comment. He is on vacation until the end of the month. A rectory worker said he could not be reached for this story.

His lawyer, Daniel M. Kelly of Springfield, said Lavelle denies the allegations.

"Father Lavelle through counsel categorically denies the assertions in the plaintiffs' complaints," said Kelly. "He specifically states that these are false allegations of sexual misconduct for which he has a very substantial affirmative defense."

A diocesan spokesman said there are no plans to remove Lavelle from his parish.

"We haven't seen anything on these complaints. When we do, we will review them and submit them to our insurance company," said Mark E. Dupont.

No priest has been removed from parish ministry in the Springfield Diocese since 1994.

K. Kristopher Kane, a 45-year-old truck driver who now lives in Oakland Mills, Pa., said he was molested in 1972 at age 15 by Lavelle when Lavelle was assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in Greenfield.

Kane said he befriended Lavelle when Kane's parents were going through a divorce and he had run away.

"I went to him before I went home. I wanted him to go to my mother so I wouldn't get yelled at," said Kane.

The first sexual encounter involved performing oral sex on one another, according to the suit. It occurred after they washed Lavelle's Volvo together and then Lavelle gave Kane some alcohol in the rectory, according to Kane.

"After a few beers, he made some romantic gestures toward me. I was kind of flattered . . . I was so naive," said Kane.

In another incident, Lavelle performed oral sex on Kane in the church after a wedding in which Kane served as an altar boy, Kane alleges.

"I was overwhelmed with the attention. I didn't have any close friends. My world was upside down," Kane said. "At the time, I didn't know I was doing anything wrong. If it was a priest doing it, I thought it couldn't be wrong."

Kane said he later told the parish pastor, "Father Haggerty," who told him to never speak of it again. There is no priest by the name of Haggerty in the current diocesan directory.

Kane said the abuse has caused him a lifetime of self-doubt, insecurity and nightmares.

Kane described another incident in which he says Lavelle brought him to a Vermont pottery shop where Lavelle bought a goblet that was later used as a chalice at Mass, according to the suit.

"On the way back, he pulled into a rest stop," said Kane, who alleges they performed oral sex on one another and Lavelle had anal sex with him. "He asked me if I liked it. I said I didn't. He said he understood."

Kane said the final incident of abuse occurred at a motel, where they performed oral sex on one another in a room after swimming.

The man who is accusing Lavelle of assaulting him twice in one day filed the suit under the pseudonym of John Doe. He is a Springfield native currently working as a lawyer in New York City.

The plaintiff, now 38, alleges Lavelle sexually assaulted him twice in one day in 1980, when he was 16 and Lavelle was serving as rector of St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield.

One assault involved Lavelle forcibly kissing the plaintiff and groping at his genitals, according to the suit. The other assault involved Lavelle forcibly kissing him, ordering the then-youth to lay on top of him and grabbing his buttocks and genitals, according to the plaintiff.

"When it occurred, I turned to stone. I became paralyzed," said the man identified as Doe earlier this week.

When he refused to participate, Lavelle said, "You're no fun," according to the plaintiff.

Lavelle served as a mentor to the man filing the suit after the two met about a year or so earlier, according to the plaintiff, who said he was interested in becoming a priest at the time. At the time, Lavelle was working as secretary to the Most Rev. Joseph F. Maguire, who was then bishop of the Springfield Diocese.

Maguire was named in Doe's suit only.

"I even took Francis as my confirmation name because I thought so much of him," said the man of Lavelle. He said the two had very little contact after the alleged abuse.

Lavelle is a Holyoke native who attended Sacred Heart parish and schools. He was ordained in 1970 by the Most Rev. Christopher Weldon at St. Michael's Cathedral.

He served as a secretary to Weldon and Maguire and also served in parish ministry in Westfield, Adams and Northampton.

He was assigned to the Newman Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst for several years before being named pastor at St. Mary in Longmeadow in October. Bill Zajac can be reached at

2002 UNION-NEWS. Used with permission.

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