Dupre Accusations Frustrating

By Dan Lamothe
The Daily Collegian [Amherst MA]
February 18, 2004

This one hits just a little too close to home.

As reports of a possible sexual scandal involving the bishop of the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese surfaced last week, any change of me being able to ignore the abuse that has plagued the Catholic Church died.

Two years ago, when The Boston Globe first reported on the sexual abuses in the Archdiocese of Boston and the cover-ups that went with it, it was easy to get angry. I certainly did. After growing up Catholic, including singing in a choir, attending Catholic school for nine years, and serving masses as an altar boy, I was as insulted and shocked as anyone else could have been ... from afar.

All of that has changed now.

The resignation and accusation of The Most Rev. Bishop Thomas L. Dupre last week hit me on so many levels. Not because I've been abused, and not because I've ever seen something like that happen to someone else. Frankly, I have very few bad memories of growing up in the Catholic Church.

This one hurts, though. It's awkward, frustrating and confusing, and if it's true, it's infuriating. It's no longer Boston, or Pittsburgh or Portland, Me. Dupre was my bishop - the same bishop who grew up in my hometown of Chicopee, attended the same Catholic school as I did two generations before, and served as a priest in my church during the early 1970s. He's also the same bishop I shared an altar with as an altar server when I was an innocent little 10-year-old.

The allegations haven't been easy on a lot of the older and wiser people I grew up around, either. To many of them, Bishop Dupre was one of our own - a local hero of sorts. For many of the lifelong parishioners in my church who remember him as a priest there, he represented not only the head of the Springfield Diocese, but a feel-good success story: the tale of the local boy who made it, despite notorious shyness, by living right and keeping faith.

So yeah, you'll have to forgive me. The allegations have been shocking for us back home in Chicopee, and I'd say most of the people who grew up with Dupre don't believe a word of this right now.

That doesn't mean it couldn't have happened, though, and that's what's freaking so many people out. If the allegations are legit - which as far as I am concerned, is still a big if - it means that Dupre's scandal will be the worst one of all. Worse than John J. Geoghan, worse than Paul Shanley, and yes, worse than Richard R. Lavigne, a convicted child molester and accused killer. If the allegations are true, it's horrific - it's as bad as if Cardinal Bernard Law had not only potentially covered up the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, but molested children himself, as well. No violation of trust would be worse than having it proven that an active bishop charged with cleaning up the last sexual scandal in the diocese was involved in one of his own.

The amount of unanswered questions aren't helping, either. Dupre stands accused molesting two minors, and that's no small charge. Since the charges have been levied, though, he's been tucked away from the press, the district attorney and from the diocese he led with no answer at all for the charges. No denial, no rebuff - nothing.

The silence is deafening.

For now, though, I'm holding out hope. I'm holding onto the notion that a random accusation by an unnamed victim who has chosen not to press any charges does not equate to a smoking gun. Bishop Dupre isn't a molester yet, and there's not enough yet for me to equate him with one.

If it turns out to be true, though, the Springfield Diocese has a gigantic mess to clean up. This one could affect Catholics in the region confidence-wise, faith-wise and trust-wise while undermining the work of thousands of good clerics in the region. Every time something like this happens, priests (and now bishops) everywhere take a hit. It's a vicious cycle that needs to be broken, and the only way for that to happen is to come clean and start over.

Here's hoping this mess gets sorted out, and quick. The heritage of several generations could ride on it.

Dan Lamothe is a Collegian columnist.


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