Wound Stings the Faithful

By Michael McAuliffe
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 15, 2004

Whether he was named or not, Thomas L. Dupre was talked about at Masses throughout the Pioneer Valley yesterday.

Three days after Dupre resigned as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield amid allegations he sexually assaulted two boys about three decades ago, priests addressed the matter with their congregations - and one broke into tears after Mass.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, elected as diocesan administrator after Dupre stepped down, spoke to about 60 people who attended the 4 p.m. Mass at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, where Dupre was installed as bishop in 1995.

"I know you, like me, have been stunned and shocked and saddened about the news of the allegations against Bishop Dupre," Sniezyk said during his sermon.

Dupre, 70, resigned a day after being confronted by The Republican with the abuse accusations. He cited health reasons as the cause for stepping down as head of the 270,000-member diocese, which covers all of Western Massachusetts. He has checked into an undisclosed medical facility outside the diocese.

Sniezyk also told those gathered at St. Michael's of the story of a man who wonders during a conversation with a friend what it would be like to feel good about his life for 10 minutes. During the past week Sniezyk said he has asked himself, "I wonder what it would be like to feel good about my Catholic church for 10 minutes."

Sniezyk is also scheduled to address what has occurred at today's 10 a.m. Mass at the cathedral. He will also provide remarks on "The Chalice of Salvation," which will air at 10 a.m. today on WWLP-TV Channel 22.

At St. Michael's Church in East Longmeadow yesterday afternoon, the Rev. James J. Scahill, who for two years has publicly criticized Dupre's handling of sexual abuse issues, did not mention the former bishop by name. Scahill has counseled the woman who leveled the abuse allegations against Dupre.

The woman, who has worked in a Catholic school in the diocese for more than 20 years, is the mother of one of the victims, and she said her son and his best friend in high school were victimized by Dupre beginning in the 1970s.

Scahill told the 800 to 900 people who attended Mass that he he has taken "no pleasure in these sad days."

Scahill went on to offer thanks "for what you and I have accomplished - and will yet accomplish - with, in and through God for victims of all kinds."

Afterward, Scahill said he sensed an air of suspense in the church at the beginning of the service and did not mention Dupre by name for a reason. "It's not with any disrespect or any disregard of Thomas. It's (that) the focus really must remain on the victims and their families because that's been our issue," he said.

Scahill has been critical of Dupre for the diocese's financial support of convicted child molester Richard R. Lavigne, a defrocked priest who was the only suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of Springfield altar boy Daniel Croteau. Since June 2002, weekly collections from St. Michael's earmarked for the bishop's office have been withheld in protest over the ongoing financial support for Lavigne.

Patricia and Robert Jamrog traveled more than an hour from Conway to attend Mass at St. Michael's. Patricia Jamrog, 64, has known Dupre most of her life, and she said she just couldn't believe the mother of one of the victims would make up a story about Dupre being a molester.

"It's just too painful to fabricate something like this," she said. "I guess I just have to believe it, and I'm very sad."

Robert Jamrog said Dupre must challenge the allegations if they are false. "He's obligated to fight it if they are not true, as a Christian," he said.

East Longmeadow resident William J. Gauthier was withholding any judgment of the former bishop. "At this point I'm waiting to see what all the facts are. I think, like anyone, Bishop Dupre deserves his chance to explain what happened," Gauthier said.

Facing an unfamiliar flock at St. Brigid's Church in Amherst, visiting priest the Rev. Adrian Gallagher addressed about 100 parishioners during Mass, delivering a homily he cautioned would be blunt.

"I hope these days will be days of healing and of purifying for those who would be preyed on in any way," said Gallagher, a priest from St. Stanislaus Church in Chicopee who was filling in for the vacationing pastor, the Rev. John Smegal.

While he did not mention Dupre by name or the accusations against him, Gallagher's message was nonetheless clear.

"One of the good things that will come out of this time in our history ... we priests and bishops will be taken off pedestals that I believe we do not belong on," he said.

Later, Gallagher said he agonized over how to address Dupre's abrupt resignation, and even considered not saying anything.

"I felt it was the elephant in the room. (Parishioners) are approaching us, and asking us questions about it. ...We didn't get any directives either way, so I hoped it was the right thing to do," Gallagher said.

At Sacred Heart Church in Springfield, the Rev. George A. Farland expressed shock and sadness. Farland, the pastor for 35 years, wept silently, his face ashen and blank as he answered questions during an interview after his 4 p.m. Mass.

"I fear that they're just going to walk away," he said of parishioners. "I mean, how credible are we?

"I'm numb," he said as he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and wiped away a tear that trickled down his cheek.

"Everyone here has the same two options: You can leave the church or commit yourself to bringing more trust and credibility to our Catholic Church," he said, reading from a prepared statement.

To move out of "this crisis," Sniezyk said at St. Michael's, clergy and laity must engage in dialogue. "We must live in love and forgiveness and most of all prayer," he said.

St. Michael"s parishioner Joyce M. Manning of Springfield agreed with Sniezyk's sermon. "Well, I feel that yes, we should just pray for (Dupre) because we are all not perfect.

"When I heard the news, I immediately prayed for him because when someone does something like that, something is wrong with them," Manning added.

Jeanne O'Connor of Springfield, who attended Mass at Sacred Heart with her grandsons, Nicholas, 8, and Nathan, 6, said the congregation of about 1,000 gave Farland a round of applause when he had finished addressing the congregation.

After the Mass she walked to her car, holding the hands of the two boys. She said: "I think it's awful, but I come here for the church, not for the priests. They're just men."

Staff writers Stephanie Barry, Alicia Guide and D.L. Stephenson contributed to this report.