Priest Swears under Oath That Bishop Threatened to Suspend Him

Providence Journal [Springfield MA]
Downloaded October 29, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) - An outspoken Catholic priest in the Springfield Diocese said under oath that Bishop Thomas L. Dupre threatened to suspend him for protesting the continued financial support of a priest convicted of molesting children.

The Rev. James J. Scahill, pastor of St. Michael's church in East Longmeadow, said in a deposition taken last month that Dupre twice threatened to suspend him for withholding weekly collections that are supposed to be sent to the bishop's office.

Scahill has been withholding the money since June 2002 as a protest against the diocese's financial support of the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, who pleaded guilty in 1992 to molesting two boys and has been accused of molestation by more than 30 other people.

The transcript of the deposition was made public by lawyer John J. Stobierski, who is representing 21 people who have filed claims of clergy sexual abuse against the Springfield Diocese.

Dupre threatened to suspend him on two occasions, Scahill said in the deposition. Dupre said Scahill had broken his oath of office and his decision to withhold money was costing the diocese thousands of dollars.

"I know you can suspend me but so convinced am I of the correctness of what I am doing I am risking that suspension if you want to risk suspending me," Scahill said he told Dupre in his testimony.

Dupre released a statement that said although he was disappointed with Scahill's actions, he did not threaten him, The Republican of Springfield reported.

"If the Bishop wanted to remove Fr. Scahill, he could pursue some action within the Church, but that is not the Bishop's desire," the statement read.

Scahill's deposition was taken last month on the same day Dupre testified. Dupre's deposition was in response to Scahill's allegation that the bishop told members of one of his advisory councils that the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon destroyed records that could have included details about accusations of clergy sexual abuse. Dupre denied saying that Weldon destroyed records.

The discord between Scahill and Dupre surfaced in September 2002 when all diocesan priests gathered at a two-day convocation in Ogunquit, Maine.

Scahill called the bishop the Sunday following the convocation to set up a meeting "because what the bishop did up in Maine in front of all those priests was assault me, verbally assault me and literally - he literally raped my character," according to the deposition.

Lavigne received 10 years probation after the 1992 guilty plea. The church paid $1.4 million in 1994 to settle 17 sex abuse complaints made against Lavigne.

The diocese has started the process of defrocking Lavigne, but it continues to pay him. Dupre has said that canon law mandates that the diocese has to continue financially supporting Lavigne.


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