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  Bishop Supports ‘Just’ Settlement of Abuse Cases

By Kathleen Mellen
Daily Hampshire Gazette
October 2, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield this week distanced himself from a recent attempt by lawyers to dismiss five cases against the diocese for its handling of alleged priest sexual misconduct.

He also pledged that the diocese will go back in its files over the past 50 years to count the number of cases of alleged abuse - and make that public by the year's end.

[Photo Caption: Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese said in an interview Wednesday that he is willing to settle all legitimate claims alleging negligence by the diocese in its supervision of priests accused of sexual misconduct. Photo by Gordon Daniels.]

"I think that when all that is made public," he said, "the problem is going to be seen more in perspective."

In an hour-long interview with the Gazette Wednesday, Dupre said that every case with merit against the diocese should be financially compensated, regardless of when the abuse occurred.

"I think it's in everybody's interest to settle these things and get them behind us," Dupre said.

In all, some 23 lawsuits allege the Springfield diocese was negligent in its supervision of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Based on the state's charitable immunity law, which prohibits claims against some charitable organizations for crimes committed before 1971, attorneys for the Springfield Diocese's insurance carriers last month filed the petition to dismiss the cases.

"I have instructed our lawyers and those who are working for me that I believe that a fair and just settlement is called for in any case and every case where there is a legitimate claim," Dupre said. "That's my feeling, that's my bottom line."

He called the move to dismiss the cases a legal maneuver, which he said will not interfere with financial compensation to all victims with legitimate claims.

The five cases were filed by Norman D. LaPolice, of Newport, R.I., and Adam Doe, a pseudonym, who both claimed they were molested by the late Rev. E. Karl Huller; and Susan F. Morris of East Longmeadow, Lawrence O. Opitz of Springfield and David A. Galeziowski of West Springfield, all of whom claim they were abused by the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne.

The move to dismiss the local claims came on the heels of the announcement by Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of an $85 million settlement of more than 550 similar cases against the Boston Archdiocese.

While Dupre said he does not think the diocese was negligent in the handling of abuse cases, he said the appeal to dismiss the cases based on charitable immunity amounted to "the maneuverings that lawyers do that have leverage."

"You don't hand out money to people just because they ask for it. There has to be some legitimacy to that claim. You have to have some substantiation," Dupre said.

"The lawyers for the plaintiffs are going to try to get as much compensation as they can, and the lawyers defending from the allegations are naturally going to try to avoid paying out more than they have to," said Dupre.

Legal tactics aside, Dupre said, "I spoke to our lawyers and I wanted to make sure in discussing this with them that this is a legal thing and does not affect our willingness to settle with anybody that has a legitimate claim."

Dupre said he will not seek to exclude the five cases in question, if they can prove their claims.

To that end, Dupre said the diocese is amenable to using a mediator to help move the cases forward, as was done in the early 1990s, when the diocese settled similar cases.

"The issue is that we were willing to settle then and we are willing to settle now. But you have to get both sides to a reasonable spot," Dupre said.

Kathleen Mellen can be reached at kmellen@gazettenet.com.

 
 

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