Dupre Secluded As Probe Begins

By Bea O'Quinn Dewberry
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 17, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - A week after he retired following sexual abuse allegations, the former Roman Catholic bishop remained in seclusion yesterday even as the district attorney pursued an investigation.

The Rev. Thomas L. Dupre has not yet responded to accusations that he sexually abused two boys nearly two decades ago, and no criminal charges have been filed. Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, the interim administrator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said he will give Dupre until tomorrow before he contacts him for a response.

Sniezyk, who expressed shock at the allegations, said the next step for the diocese is to try to heal. He said a candlelight vespers service of prayer will be held tomorrow at 7 p.m. at St. Michael's Cathedral at 260 State St.

Dupre, 70, checked himself into an undisclosed medical facility for treatment of a non-life-threatening illness last Tuesday after he was confronted by The Republican with a detailed list of written questions regarding the allegations. The newspaper, which received an anonymous tip, had interviewed the mother of one of the alleged victims, who said her son confirmed the abuse took place.

The newspaper has a policy of not identifying alleged sexual assault victims.

Dupre, who has said he has heart problems, cited health reasons for his retirement last Wednesday. The diocese said he sought Vatican approval last November to retire before the mandatory age of 75.

Mark A. Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, said the bishop's abrupt departure has added to the challenges faced by the diocese.

"We're all in the same boat with the bishop having left without responding to the allegations; this certainly leaves everyone in limbo," Dupont said.

Dupont said he was among one of the diocesan officials questioned by the district attorney's office during the weekend. Sniezyk, chosen last week to lead the diocese until a bishop can be appointed, said he was questioned Friday.

Additional diocesan leaders will be queried later this week, Dupont said.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said no formal charges have been filed against the bishop nor has a request to file charges been made.

The mother of one of the alleged victims is a longtime worker in a Catholic school in the diocese. She said her son was abused by Dupre starting in his freshman year in high school. She said his best friend was abused beginning when he was a preteen. The alleged abuse started in the 1970s and lasted into the 1980s.

The mother last year said she tried unsuccessfully to persuade her son to press charges.

The district attorney said he has spoken with Roderick MacLeish, the lawyer retained by the two men who were allegedly abused by Dupre as minors.

"We have been in communication with a number of people, and as soon as we have some information to report we will," Bennett said.

Bennett is encouraging anyone with information regarding the allegations to come forward to his office. He would not say whether he had spoken to Dupre.

MacLeish said Friday he wanted the diocese to release all information and files regarding the bishop and his service as a parish priest two to three decades ago.

"We are seeking to cooperate fully with all parties in this matter," Dupont said.

In addition to the diocesan service tomorrow, the Voice of the Faithful, a group pushing for more involvement by lay people in the church, plans a silent vigil from 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. at St. Michael's Cathedral Feb. 29.

Local priests said the news of the allegations has made their job more difficult.

The Rev. Richard Turner, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Chicopee, said morale is low for many priests.

"For priests in general, at this point, at times everyone might become suspect," Turner said, adding he felt sadness for the church, for priests and for the victims of abuse.

"Like all people try to do, I try to do my best each day. I believe in the power of prayer and the importance of having a spirituality that is strong," Turner said.

Warren Mason, a member of St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in East Longmeadow, questioned why the bishop hasn't responded to the allegation. The Rev. William Tourigny, pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Springfield, said that in time parishioners will rebuild their trust in priests and the church will heal.

"At Sunday Mass, I challenged people and said we do one of two things: We hang up our collars and walk away or we work together and build a church that continues to tend to the needs of the sick ... and reach out to the downtrodden," Tourigny said.


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