FALL RIVER — Three Fall River priests formerly suspended due to child sex abuse allegations will not be returning to ministry after the diocese announced today that the accusations against them have been deemed "credible."

The Diocese of Fall River stated on Monday that Father James Buckley, Father Edward Byington, and Father Richard Degagne have been added to the list of clergy who are "credibly accused" of sexual abuse.

According to the diocese, Degagne, the former pastor of Easton's Immaculate Conception Parish, was suspended in 2019.

Buckley and Byington were suspended in 2020, although both were already retired and not assigned to a parish at the time.

All three priests have denied the allegations.

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Late last month, one of Byington's alleged victims, Richard Eldridge, came forward publicly with his story.

He said the abuse took place when he was a teenager in the 1970s, at a convent where the nuns tried to block the priest from taking him upstairs following a religious retreat.

Eldridge said he was tired of waiting for justice.

According to Eldridge's attorney Mitchell Garabedian, the diocese started reconsidering his claim of Byington's abuse after an anonymous second victim also came forward.

 

 

Byington is 82 years old and retired in 2006.

Since his ordination in 1970 he was assigned to parishes in Attleboro, Taunton, Fall River, Westport, Seekonk, Somerset, and Hyannis.

Degagne, who was ordained in 1982, had previously worked in Attleboro, Fall River, New Bedford, Taunton, and East Freetown before he was removed from ministry.

He is 67 years old.

Buckley is 90 years old and worked in Fall River, Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard.

A statement from the diocese noted that it followed all protocols including notifying relevant authorities, investigating each case, and bringing them before the independent Ministerial Review Board.

Fall River Bishop Edgar da Cunha deemed the allegations credible and has told all three priests that they will not be returning to ministry, according to the diocese.

This means that they are not allowed to celebrate public mass, provide spiritual direction, wear clerical attire, or present themselves as priests.

Sexual abuse allegations are determined to be credible if they have a “semblance of truth” under canon law.

“My prayers remain with any and all who have suffered sexual abuse by clergy, especially as a minor,” said da Cunha.

“Their pain is real and long-lasting, and perpetrators must be held accountable.”

A list of accused clergy members and their assignment history is available on the Fall River Diocese website.

The diocese offers services to victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families through its Victim Assistance Outreach program.

Anyone affected by clergy abuse is encouraged to contact Victim Assistance Coordinator Carolyn Shipp at 508-985-6508 or cshipp@dioc-fr.org.

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