Bishop: Faith Will Define Church

By Kathleen Mellen
Hampshire Gazette [Springfield MA]
Downloaded October 4, 2003

Saturday, October 4, 2003 -- SPRINGFIELD - Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese says that as Catholics struggle with the sex abuse scandal rocking the church, he has taken comfort in his belief that it is not sins but faith that will ultimately define the church.

"Faith is something that God gives us and we have to accept or reject," Dupre said Wednesday.

And yet when that faith is shaken, he said, it is incumbent on Catholics - parishioners and leaders alike - to rediscover it.

"I don't think you can force faith on people," Dupre said. "Faith is something that is between us and God and we either trust God and trust Jesus Christ and trust the church he founded, or we don't."

Dupre's comments came during a rare, hour-long interview in a parlor of his diocesan residence in Springfield.

A native of Holyoke, Dupre was ordained in Springfield in 1959 and installed as the seventh bishop of Springfield in 1995. In his interview with the Gazette, he spoke candidly about a number of matters that are providing fodder for spirited, sometimes divisive, discussion among Catholics, including his leadership of area Catholics during the sex abuse scandal, his diocese's involvement in the scandal and his responsibility to the victims of the sexual abuse.

Despite tumultuous times for the church, Dupre said he has faith in the strength and resiliency of local Catholics.

Dupre said the scandal has taken a toll on his health - but not on his faith.

"To be honest, some days it's very difficult. I'm not hiding anything. It's a very trying time," Dupre said. "I'm amazed that I'm still going on. I do have some serious health problems."

In May, the bishop, who is 69, revealed that he was considering retirement because of ill health.

He said at the time that he has been suffering from back and heart problems for the past several years. The mandatory retirement age for Catholic bishops is 75.

"The work of being a bishop is a heavy responsibility, a heavy load. By itself it would be enough. But with all the pressures that are on today ... it is a lot of pressure. I'm amazed, I'm going to be 70 this year, that I'm still able to do it. because it does wear you down, quite frankly."

The bishop said his "prayer life" and his faith in God have sustained him

"I believe that faith is all-important. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for faith. I would have given up a long time ago. I think a lot of other people too," he said. "I think it's faith that's at the core, and it's faith that keeps us going."

Church has faced crises

Historically, Dupre said, traumatic times are nothing new for the Catholic church. "We have survived over and over again - crisis after crisis," said Dupre.

"It's terrible that we have to go through these things. But if the church were not a divine institution, it would not have survived."

The latest challenge is an "uneven problem," Dupre said. "It would be a terrible mistake to imply that it's the same all over the country."

He said that to tackle the serious problem of abuse, the issues must be addressed in a larger context than just the church. "That only scratches the surface of the problem," he said.

"Ninety-five percent of (sexual abuse) occurs in the home. If society really wants to deal with this problem, do something about it, they've got to deal with the whole problem, not just one group."

Dupre said dealing with wrong-doers always has been central to the church's role.

"The fact there are sinners (in the church) is not the surprise," he said. "The fact that priests can be sinners perhaps was a wake-up call to some people. Some had forgotten they are struggling human beings."

Dupre said sin has always existed within the walls of the church. "It always has, it always will," he said.

"The people that make up the church are human beings. And like other human beings, they are prone to failure. They have weaknesses ... they are sinners. That's part of the journey through life, we have to deal with that."

As details have emerged about the sex abuse scandal, and the diocese's handling of cases, some Catholics have felt pitted against the church - and each other. In response, Dupre said, "People used to think that the Catholic church was a monolith and everybody walked in lockstep with everybody else; everybody just jumped."

But the church leadership must "deal with the reality that there are groups ... that have different approaches different ideas, different plans for the future," Dupre said.

"We do have a common faith, but people are very individual-minded ... Their pattern for improving the church in the future is going to be different," he said.

"The hierarchy ... are trying to steer the church down the course that they think is the right one for the church. In some ways it's pleasing to the liberals, and some ways it's pleasing to the conservatives. But it never pleases both totally," Dupre said.

The job of steering the church down the right path, he said, is perhaps tougher now than at any other time in his career.


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