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Former Fall River Diocese priest accused of sexual abuse files defamation lawsuit against Bishop da Cunha

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A priest removed from the Fall River Diocese is filing a lawsuit against the Bishop.

Last Friday, February 26, 2021, the Law Offices of Beauregard, Burke, and Franco, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, filed a civil lawsuit in the Bristol County Superior Court claiming defamation and related relief against Fall River Roman Catholic Bishop Edgar da Cunha.

The plaintiff, Fr. Daniel Lacroix, 61, of New Bedford, claims that Bishop da Cunha “substantially and irreparably” harmed his personal reputation.

According to the law office, Fr. Lacroix is not seeking compensation for the monetary loss of his livelihood as a result of the defamation, rather he seeks what was stated as “vindication of his civil right to relief for the harm done to his reputation”. He also seeks declaratory judgement that he did not engage in the misconduct that is the subject of his case.

The Diocese of Fall River placed Fr. Lacroix on leave in November 2019 based on what the diocese said was information from an external review of the Diocese’s priest personnel files.

At the time, Bishop da Cunha stated that “nothing is more important than the welfare of survivors, children and our community at-large. We have pledged to handle all matters of abuse in a pastoral and professional way and have implemented many new reforms since 2017. I continue to pray for anyone who has been affected by the scourge of sexual abuse.”

In November of 2020, Lacroix was permanently removed from the ministry after the Diocese stated that the allegations were determined to be credible.

“It is with sadness that I write today to inform you that the Review Board has determined the allegations to be credible, and has recommended to me that Father Lacroix be removed permanently from priestly ministry because of conduct that is inconsistent with standards of ministerial behavior and in direct violation of the Code of Conduct for priests in the Fall River Diocese and the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for The Protection of Children and Young People.”

Lacroix was a pastor at three New Bedford parishes: Our Lady of Fatima, St. Joseph-St. Therese, and St. Mary.

In the complaint, the law office states that previous to Bishop da Cunha’s claims, the law office states that the Bristol County District Attorney had declined to press charges against Fr. Lacroix, and previous investigations by Diocesan investigators in 2016 and 2014 had resulted in his full exoneration. Fr. Lacroix had also expressed throughout his willingness to submit to lie detector testing.

Fr. Lacroix’s attorney, Philip N. Beauregard, says that his client’s attempts to cooperate with investigations and to submit to lie detector testing yielded no results. “My client has been viciously slandered, and his entire life and career have been put on hold, all without any measure of due process. Father Lacroix’s repeated appeals to the defendant and the diocese have been met with apathy and silence, and meanwhile, he has been denied his vocation, his livelihood, and his reputation. This lawsuit is intended to give him the opportunity to prove his innocence to these heinous charges.”

Beauregard says that Fr. Lacroix maintains his innocence and says that the diocese has essentially ceased communication with him. Though he has attempted to communicate with them via phone calls and letters, his questions remain unanswered.

Under current Massachusetts law, a bishop and diocese cannot normally be held liable for defamation of a priest. According to Attorney Beauregard, this means that in Massachusetts a diocese could be immune to requirements of basic due process. “Essentially, the defendant in this case is serving as judge, jury, and executioner to Father Lacroix,” Beauregard says. “While the First Amendment of the United States Constitution suggests a separation between church and state, this case clearly represents a bridge too far.” Other state jurisdictions have allowed such lawsuits, Fr. Lacroix hopes that Massachusetts will now allow some form of relief to him.

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