Bishop, Priest Clash on Facts

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
September 30, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - The Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, yesterday denied under oath that he said one of his predecessors destroyed legally sensitive church files.

Meanwhile, the priest who said Dupre made the statements also testified yesterday that his allegations were truthful.

Two weeks ago the Rev. James J. Scahill said Dupre made statements last year to members of one of his advisory councils that the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon destroyed records that could have involved details about accusations of clergy sexual abuse. Dupre denied that he said Weldon destroyed such records in the 1970s, and offered to repeat his denial under oath.

While Scahill was deposed in private in his lawyer's office, Dupre was questioned in front of six news reporters for more than two hours in the offices of downtown Springfield law firm Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy. The questioning was not completed yesterday and will continue at a later date.

The deposition was interrupted for 10 minutes when a man who has identified himself as a victim of clergy sexual abuse attempted to gain access to the bishop.

"I wanted to tell him to set me free from the pain I have experienced," said Andre P. Tessier, who filed a lawsuit a year ago stating he was abused by the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne at approximately age 11 at St. Mary's Church in Springfield.

Tessier, who was holding a sign "Laicize Me," was stopped in the elevator and prevented from reaching the deposition site.

The sign referenced Dupre's assertion that if convicted child molester Lavigne is defrocked, Dupre intends to continue to financially support him.

"He supports Lavigne and uses every legal maneuver possible to fight us victims of abuse," Tessier said.

A lawyer representing Tessier and many others who have filed sexual abuse suits against the diocese has been trying to get documents that prove church officials knew of complaints against Lavigne earlier than they have stated.

Dupre, in his testimony, said he never would have made statements about Weldon destroying records because he never knew that was the case.

"I never heard that from Bishop Weldon," the executor of Weldon's estate or the former Bishop Joseph F. Maguire. "I don't have any knowledge that any church records were destroyed," said Dupre.

Last night Scahill said he didn't change his story in his two-hour deposition.

"Today, I spoke the truth, and truth always conquers deceit," said Scahill, whose parish, St. Michael's in East Longmeadow, has been protesting Lavigne's financial support by withholding from the bishop money received in weekly collections.

Scahill added that it has been difficult to come forward with the allegations.

"The whole thing is making me ill. It is draining my life. I'm not trying to take the church down. I have spent my life in the church and have no intention of leaving ministry, but I can't change the way I was raised by my parents. Telling the truth is the only way I can live with myself peaceably," Scahill said.

Meanwhile, when Dupre was asked whether he was willing to release the 18 members of the Presbyteral Council from the oath of privacy they are required to take upon the joining the council, Dupre said he would have to discuss it with diocesan legal counsel. Scahill said Dupre made the statement about Weldon in front of the Presbyteral Council.

Council members, all of whom are priests who were either appointed to the board or elected by other priests, are bound by the oath to keep secret any matters that are discussed at meetings.

The testimonies were given against a backdrop of months of legal wranglings between the diocese and at least 25 people who have filed sexual abuse suits against the diocese.

Several superior court decisions surrounding Springfield diocesan clergy sex abuse case matters are pending, including:

A diocesan effort to have all clergy sexual abuse suits dismissed on First Amendment grounds;

An effort by plaintiffs' lawyer John J. Stobierski and The Republican to release impounded court documents in the investigation of murdered altar boy Daniel Croteau of Springfield, and

An attempt to force the diocese to release thousands of pages of personnel and legal records of Lavigne.

Also, a ruling is being sought by the diocese in its effort to have five clergy sexual abuse suits dismissed, claiming it has charitable immunity on any abuse that may have occurred before September 1971.


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