BishopAccountability.org
 
  For Dupre, the Pressure Was Too Much

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Republican
March 28, 2004

Editor's note: As the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese prepares to install a new bishop, The Republican pieced together the last days of the former church leader's tenure and the pressure that finally resulted in his resignation amid sexual abuse allegations.

SPRINGFIELD - When he put together his work schedule for Tuesday, Feb. 10, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre wasn't thinking it would be his last day as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

He had a full day planned and appointments scheduled for the rest of the week and throughout the month.

In a Feb. 3 letter to a man who filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against another priest, Dupre said he was looking forward to meeting the man Feb. 23.

"Our purpose in meeting is for me, as Bishop, as pastoral leader of the diocese and father to express to you my sincere regrets for whatever may have happened to you and to offer you the assurance of our prayers and our offers of counseling and therapy, as may be needed," Dupre wrote.

But Dupre would never meet the man. Within hours of attending a funeral to start a routine day Feb. 10, Dupre would submit his sudden, immediate resignation and flee the diocese. He did so amid allegations that he sexually abused two boys more than 20 years ago.

The implosion of Dupre's career capped a confluence of events that must have served as a human pressure cooker. The penultimate event appears to have been The Republican's decision to confront the bishop with the sexual abuse charges even though the two alleged victims had not come forward. In the recent history of such allegations against bishops nationwide, no U.S. newspaper has published such a story without the charges first being brought by an alleged victim or his lawyer.

But the day Dupre disappeared also was a day when the state Legislature was taking historic votes on gay marriage, something Dupre had publicly campaigned against even as his own past closed in.

Dupre had already become the target of criticism over the past two years for his handling of the clergy abuse problem, which erupted even as the bishop withstood community anger over the diocese's decision to relocate Holyoke Catholic High School.

The Rev. James J. Scahill had publicly battled with Dupre over the bishop's handling of the sexual abuse crisis. Unbeknownst to Dupre, Scahill had also been counseling one of the bishop's alleged victims after the man's mother reached out to the parish priest last year.

Amid all the pressures, the bishop kept in touch with the two men who would ultimately be his downfall. At some point last year, one of the men told him that the newspaper was inquiring about allegations it first received in an anonymous e-mail near the end of 2002.

Neither of the men had confirmed the allegations before the bishop's resignation was announced, but the newspaper had interviewed and was keeping in touch with the mother of one, who said she had learned from her son that the allegations were true. After waiting months for the men to come forward, either to tell their story or file a suit, the newspaper decided to confront the bishop.

Before contacting Dupre, The Republican first tried to speak to one of the alleged victims about the allegations about 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 9.

The newspaper had been consistently told that the other alleged victim was not willing to go forward, although a Boston lawyer known for handling clergy abuse cases said he and the man spoke for the first time the day The Republican published the story about the allegations. The man retained the lawyer at that time.

After the first man refused to tell any of his story on the record, The Republican called the bishop's secretary at 2:45 p.m. and sought a meeting with the bishop.

When the secretary suggested the reporter go through the diocese's press liaison, the reporter asked that the bishop be given an opportunity to accept the request directly.

At 5 p.m., diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont called The Republican and said the bishop wanted to know the nature of the interview.

The reporter responded by saying it involved the bishop's personal relationship with two men. The men were identified by name, but the nature of the relationship wasn't revealed.

On Tuesday, Feb. 10, in what would be the bishop's last day on the job, Dupont called The Republican and said that the bishop wanted more specific information.

The reporter said a series of questions would be e-mailed to Dupont by 9:45 a.m. and that they would involve allegations that Dupre sexually abused two men when they were minors and Dupre was a parish priest.

Dupre's early-morning custom was to celebrate Mass in his private chapel in his residential suite on Elliott Street and to start his workday around 9:30 a.m. On this day, however, he was likely en route to or at the funeral when the newspaper's questions arrived. Diocesan officials could not say whose funeral it was.

Dupont printed the questions when he received them via e-mail and then deleted the e-mail file. The questions were sealed in an envelope, marked "confidential," and given to a person who would make sure Dupre received them. Dupont refused recently to identify the person, but said it was someone he contacted when he needed to get information directly to the bishop.

The questions involved specific details about what transpired in Dupre's relationship with the alleged victims, who are now 40 and 39.

The final question inquired whether the bishop was going to resign as a result of the allegations.

No diocesan official has acknowledged publicly that Dupre ever saw the questions.

However, Dupre appeared extremely agitated and distracted during a 1:30 p.m. meeting that day with the Most Rev. Pedro Barreto Jimeno, a bishop from Peru, according to a person who was at the meeting.

At 2 p.m., in a meeting expected to last several hours, Dupre met with the diocesan consultors regarding the future of Holyoke Catholic High School and a multimillion dollar fund-raising drive that was subsequently announced.

It was during this meeting that the 70-year-old Dupre, who applied to the Vatican in November to retire earlier than the mandatory age of 75, received a phone call informing him his early retirement was accepted and could go into effect immediately.

He informed consultors of the retirement, surprising them with the immediacy of it. Dupre never mentioned the allegations although the mother of one of the alleged victims said she had sent him two letters about the alleged abuse before he first sought retirement last year.

Diocesan officials have not publicly said whether Dupre may have called the papal nuncio, the Vatican representative in the United States, to inform him of the allegations and the urgency with which he was seeking immediate relief from his duties.

However, the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, the editor of the Jesuit magazine "America" and an expert on church politics, said the scenario is quite plausible, adding that the Vatican takes such situations quite seriously.

Other bishops under fire have had resignations accepted by the Vatican as quickly. Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, for instance, had his retirement request accepted by the Vatican within a day or so of public disclosure in 2002 that he settled a sexual assault allegation against him. The Vatican cited Weakland's age, which was 75, the retirement age for bishops.

Just as in the Springfield Diocese, a successor to Weakland was named within a month.

Dupont, who returned around 2 p.m. to the diocesan offices on Elliot Street from a 10 a.m. meeting Feb. 10, wasn't sure if he would hear back directly from the bishop.

However, at around 5 p.m., Dupont received a typed statement from the chancery offices that said Dupre was resigning and that it would be announced the next morning.

"It was hand-delivered to me and typed so it was hard for me to tell who wrote it," said Dupont.

A little after 7 p.m., Dupre called Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, vicar general under Dupre, who was on vacation in Florida. Dupre informed Sniezyk that he was retiring immediately. Sniezyk, who said the allegations of sexual abuse were never discussed, returned to the diocese the next morning - a week earlier than planned.

The allegations were a bombshell in a national clergy sexual abuse scandal so pervasively public that nothing seemed to surprise anyone anymore.

"Even if the allegations were not true, it would be a terrible way for years of faithful service to the church to end," said Dupont. "I felt that the days ahead were not going to be easy ones for the church."

It is unclear what time Dupre left his residence or whether someone assisted him as he made his quick departure. But when his resignation was announced the following morning, the diocesan release stated Dupre had checked into an undisclosed medical facility for non-life-threatening treatment the previous night. It was later learned that he is at St. Luke Institute, Silver Spring, Md., a facility that treats sexually abusive priests and priests with other problems.

The diocese has still not heard from Dupre, who was seen at the facility by a reporter for The Republican who was not allowed in to speak to him. Treatment at St. Luke often lasts six months.

When Dupre's retirement was announced, it left the chancery in a state of confusion. Sniezyk conducted a 2 p.m. news conference Feb. 11. The allegations, which were not mentioned in a news release on Dupre's departure, also were not mentioned at the news conference.

It wasn't until an hour or so after the news conference that The Republican called the diocese to ask if the bishop had left behind answers to its questions and whether the diocese was going to comment on the allegations.

Shortly after 3 p.m., Dupont contacted Sniezyk, who said he knew nothing of the allegations. Dupont, saying he had destroyed the original e-mail, asked for the questions to be sent again to him.

Dupont said he never informed Sniezyk about the allegations earlier because he believed Sniezyk may have already known about them.

Sniezyk issued a clarification to the diocese's original resignation release after learning of the allegations. The clarification indicated the diocese was acknowledging the questions, but added it knew nothing about the allegations.

The diocese later gave the newspaper's questions to the office of Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett, who initiated an investigation. A grand jury is currently considering possible criminal charges against Dupre, who could become the first U.S. bishop to be criminally prosecuted on sex-abuse related charges.

The Vatican is also conducting an investigation into the allegations. The two alleged victims, who detailed their allegations about a week after the bishop resigned, have also filed civil suits. They have hired Boston lawyer Eric MacLeish Jr.

In their statement detailing the allegations, the men also thanked The Republican both for its role in confronting the bishop and for its effort not to identify them.

Within an hour or so of the press conference, The Republican decided to post on its affiliated Web site Masslive.com, a story about the resignation and allegations. The paper also provided television station abc40 background on its story, which went on air with the information shortly after 5 p.m.

Publishing the story marked a significant change in The Republican's reporting of sexual abuse. In the recent Catholic church clergy abuse crisis, the newspaper generally only published stories about abuse in situations where civil suits were filed or an alleged victim otherwise publicly announced the accusations.

In this case, because the bishop's sudden departure seemed so closely tied to the allegations, Publisher Larry A. McDermott approved the story for print.

Although the decision was unusual in the recent coverage of clergy abuse, the newspaper 13 years earlier published that Richard R. Lavigne, a recently defrocked Catholic priest, was the chief suspect in an altar boy's murder even though he had never been publicly identified as a suspect.

Lavigne was convicted of molesting two boys in 1992 and accused of molesting about 33 others over the years, but DNA tests about a decade ago failed to conclusively link him to the murder. The newspaper and a lawyer for abuse plaintiffs are still trying to unseal documents in the 32-year-old murder case in a suit that will be heard by the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

In Dupre's case, the newspaper used the account of a mother of one of the alleged victims. Her account was corroborated through several other sources over the past year, none of whom were the victims.

Kelly McBride, an ethics professor at the Poynter Institute who has studied media coverage of the clergy abuse scandal, said the nature of the scandal itself has prompted the media to rethink traditional methods.

"Our journalistic responsibility is to hold the powerful accountable, but it has to be done in a responsible manner. If information is corroborated, then a newspaper has a mandate to report it - with or without court documents," McBride said.

In Dupre's case, the questions themselves seemed to unravel a tightly wound existence that had reached a high point nine years earlier when he was installed as the seventh bishop of the Springfield Diocese. The diocese then seemed to be recovering from the scandal of Richard Lavigne, but it appeared the Lavigne case was just the beginning.

For Dupre, who was known as an unassuming, if not stiff, leader who put in long hours on the job, the clergy abuse crisis became a personal one that apparently hastened an untimely end to his career.

Dupont remembers staying late the night the bishop fled, pulling together biographical background in anticipation of the Vatican announcement at 6 a.m. the next day.

As Dupont worked past 8 p.m., he saw lights on in the bishop's residence across the street.

"He was still there," Dupont said. "It was a sad, poignant moment."

Chronology of an imploding career

The following is a summary of approximate significant times and events leading up to the resignation of the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre as bishop of the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese last month amid sexual abuse allegations:

MONDAY, Feb. 9

2:00 p.m. - The Republican attempts to speak to one of the alleged victims of Dupre at his workplace. The man refuses to tell any of his story for publication.

2:45 p.m. - The Republican contacts Dupre's office seeking an interview. The call is referred to diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont.

5 p.m. - Dupont calls The Republican and inquires about the nature of the requested interview. He is told that it involves Dupre's personal relationship with two men. The men are identified by name, but the nature of the relationship is not discussed.

TUESDAY, Feb. 10

9:30 a.m. - Dupont calls The Republican to say Dupre wants more specific information. Dupont is told a series of questions will be e-mailed to him regarding allegations that Dupre sexually abused the men when they were minors.

9:45 a.m. - Questions detailing allegations are e-mailed to Dupont, who arranges for Dupre to receive a printed version of them.

2 p.m. - During a meeting with diocesan consultors, Dupre receives a call from the pope's representative in the U.S., saying his early retirement request is accepted.

5 p.m. - Dupont is notified by chancery offices that Dupre will be resigning immediately and it will be announced by the Vatican the following morning.

8 p.m. - Dupre leaves the diocese and checks into St. Luke Institute, Md.

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 11

6 a.m. - The Vatican announces Dupre's retirement request is accepted. Health reasons are cited.

7 a.m. - The Diocese issues a press release announcing Dupre's resignation, citing health reasons.

2 p.m. - The Diocese holds a press conference. There is no mention of the allegations.

3 p.m. - The Republican inquires about whether Dupre left answers to its questions and whether the acting diocesan administrator, Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, will comment.

3:15 p.m. - The diocese asks the Republican to send the questions again, which the newspaper does.

3:30 p.m. - The diocese issues a clarification regarding the resignation announcement, acknowledging allegations but claiming it has no other knowledge of them.

5:00 p.m. - An early version of The Republican story detailing resignation and allegations is posted on MassLive.com, reported on abc40 news and picked up by the Associated Press

9:00 p.m. - Boston lawyer Eric MacLeish Jr. calls The Republican to notify the reporter that he is representing two alleged victims. MacLeish's first conversations ever with both men occurred after the story was posted on MassLive.com

 
 

Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
     
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