Men Who Claim Abuse by Bishop Dupre May Meet with Church Officials
By Bill Pomerleau
Iobserve [Springfield MA]
Downloaded February 18, 2004
SPRINGFIELD - Two men who allege that they were sexually abused by retired Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre when he was a priest may soon meet with officials of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Diocese of Springfield, according to their lawyer.
Roderick MacLeish, a prominent attorney involved in misconduct cases in Boston, told the Associated Press Nov. 17 that he was arrainging a meeting for this week during which the men could "tell their stories" to the church officials.
MacLeish has been retained by one of the alleged victims, solely in an effort to maintain his privacy. He also represents another man, a former parishioner of St. Louis-de-France Parish in West Springfield who now lives out of state, to keep his privacy and explore legal options.
The Boston attorney told AP that his clients "really wanted to tell their stories to church leaders. There are probably details that are not known to the Diocese of Springfield that they want to have known."
Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield, said that having the archdiocese facilitate the meeting is appropriate, since "any allegations we would have received would have been turned over to the archbishop for his review."
Under the provisions of the U.S. bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Persons," and its related canonical norms, accusations of sexual abuse against a diocesan bishop are reported to the pope through the metropolitan, or archbishop, in an ecclesiastical province. In the case of Springfield, that is Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley.
Dupont told The Catholic Observer that the diocese has already offered counselling to one of the alleged victims. Under the diocesan misconduct policies, all persons making accusations of abuse against a member of the clergy are routinely offered counselling, even before an investigation of the veracity of their claims is completed.
The diocese was in shock last week as accusations surfaced Feb. 11 that Bishop Dupre had been accused of sexual misconduct with minors, just hours after it announced that the bishop's early retirement had been accepted by Pope John Paul II.
Within a day of the dramatic developments, Msgr. Richard S. Sniezyk, the highest ranking priest in the diocese, asked law enforcement and higher church officials to investigate the accusations.
Stunned diocesan officials and workers, including Msgr. Sniezyk, sought to understand what had happened to their bishop, who left the diocese for an undisclosed medical facility outside the diocese shortly after receiving word that his resignation had been accepted by the pope.
By press time, Bishop Dupre had made no public comment about his situation. Msgr. Sniezyk, who was elected administrator of the diocese by its Board of Consultors Feb. 13, said that he would give the bishop a week to deal with his medical and psychological condition before contacting him.
Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, told an impromptu meeting of diocesan workers Feb. 12 that he had received word from the bishop's office late on Monday, Feb. 9 that a reporter from The Republican newspaper had asked to speak directly with Bishop Dupre.
Generally, interview requests for the bishop had been arranged through Dupont. But once reporter Bill Zajak made it clear to Dupont that his questions were personal in nature, the diocesan spokesman arranged, at the bishop's request, to receive the questions in writing.
Dupont said that he received the questions in an e-mail which he did not read, and arranged to have them confidentially delivered to the bishop on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at approximately 10 a.m. He told The Catholic Observer that by that time, the bishop had left his office to attend a funeral.
Dupont said that since the bishop apparently then had lunch, and then attended a regular meeting of the consultors at 2 p.m., he is not certain if Bishop Dupre ever saw the written inquiry from The Republican.
Msgr. Sniezyk said Feb. 13, "We are not aware that the bishop shared those questions with anyone."
Most of the consultors, a group of nine priests who were the bishop's principal advisors, received word that the pope had accepted Bishop Dupre's resignation as Seventh Bishop of Springfield late in the afternoon of Feb. 10. The bishop left the consultors meeting to take a phone call from Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio to the United States, then returned to the group with word of his impending retirement, according to Msgr. Leo Leclerc, until recently a co-vicar general of the diocese.
At the time, advisors were only mildly surprised at the news. Papal decisions about bishops in the United States are typically relayed to the highest official in the relevant local diocese in the late afternoon, local time, by Archbishop Montalvo. The diocese then plans a local public announcement for the following morning timed to coincide with an announcement posted on the Vatican Web site at noon Rome time (6 a.m. EST).
And while such phone calls to U.S. bishops had been made for several years on Mondays, the Vatican has in recent months announced changes on other days of the week.
Several advisors and friends of Bishop Dupre also knew that he had submitted a request for early retirement last November. Dupont said that he had known as early as July 2002 that the bishop had discussed concerns with his doctor that his health might impact his ability to function as a diocesan bishop.
In an interview last May with The Republican, the bishop admitted that he was considering retiring early because of his health.
At an afternoon press conference held Feb. 11 to discuss the bishop's retirement, Msgr. Sniezyk confirmed publicly what his close friends and advisors knew:
" He has had a heart arrhythmia, which his doctors have been trying to control with Coumodin," he said, alluding to a blood thinner often prescribed to those suffering from an irregular heartbeat.
" His medical condition is under control, and he is not in imminent danger," said Msgr. Sniezyk. But he added that the bishop's doctor had advised him that if he did not retire from the stress-filled job of Bishop of Springfield, he would soon suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Msgr. Sniezyk, who was in Florida Feb. 10, received a phone call that evening from Bishop Dupre informing him of the impending retirement. The then-diocesan vicar general returned to the diocese before the retirement took effect at 10 a.m. the next morning.
Two hours after the Feb. 11 press conference, The Republican reported in an on-line preview of its Feb. 12 edition that it had "confronted" the bishop early the previous day "with accusations that he had sexually abused two minor boys three decades ago when he was a priest."
The newspaper said that it had first received a tip about the allegations from an anonymous source more than a year ago. It said it had "spent months conducting interviews in an attempt to corroborate the allegations."
The Republican article did not state that it had found corroboration. It said that it had talked to the mother of one of the alleged victims, whom it described as "a longtime diocesan school worker."
In an expanded story the next morning, the Springfield newspaper included several new comments from the woman, whom it reported had "tried unsuccessfully for months to persuade her now adult son to publicly press charges." It said it was not identifying the woman "in accordance with the newspaper's policy of protecting alleged sexual abuse victims."
The Republican said that the two victims, who were best friends in high school, did not want to file suit against the bishop. It identified the woman's son as being about 13, and his friend as a pre-teen, when the alleged abuse began.
The woman also said that then-Father Dupre had "told the boys that he had been tested for AIDS," and "showed them pictures of men dying of AIDS to scare them so they wouldn't have sex with whoever."
AIDS was first named by the scientific community in 1982, a year after The New York Times became the first non-scientific publication to report on a mysterious disease affecting homosexuals. The Food and Drug Administration licensed the first HIV antibody test in 1985.
According to the Springfield newspaper, the woman wrote Bishop Dupre with her allegations last spring, weeks before the bishop told The Republican that he might retire earlier than the usual episcopal retirement age of 75.
The article said that she was first contacted by the newspaper in December 2002. She later confronted her son with the possibility that he had been abused by the bishop, and the son acknowledged the abuse.
The woman said that the bishop later met with her son at a Sturbridge restaurant, and apologized for the abuse. She also said that she wrote Bishop Dupre a second time last fall "after watching him on television saying he wanted to facilitate a fund to help financially support sexually abusive priests," according to the newspaper.
Bishop Dupre had discussed the fund on an Oct. 8 special edition of the Catholic Communications program "Real to Reel."
During several days of fast-breaking developments, only some questions about what diocesan officials, higher church figures, prosecutors and the media knew about the bishop's alleged past behavior, and when they knew it, had been answered.
At press time, it was not clear if the announcement of the pope's acceptance of the bishop's resignation and the allegations in The Republican were related.
During the last decade, a number of diocesan bishops have resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct. In many cases, the Vatican has announced the resignation of the accused bishop simultaneously with the appointment of his permanent successor, or a diocesan administrator.
The Diocese of Springfield has been allowed by the Vatican to follow the procedures usually followed when a bishop under age 75 resigns because of ill health, or is transferred to a larger diocese.
Msgr. Sniezyk, who was elected diocesan administrator Feb. 13, has stated clearly that he had no prior knowledge of the abuse allegations involving the bishop.
He said Feb. 11, "I am unaware of any of the allegations raised in the article published on-line this evening. I can assure you that if any individual brought forth a complaint against any member of the diocesan community, including the bishop, it would be thoroughly investigated.
" With regard to these matters, no individual has ever come forward to allege that they had been the victim of misconduct by the bishop. When these questions were submitted to me, I did immediately call The Republican newspaper and shared my position, as stated here, with them."
A day later, Msgr. Sniezyk said that the diocese had asked Zajak to re-send his questions originally sent to the bishop to the diocese. The diocese then forwarded the questions posed by The Republican, including the names of individuals cited by its reporter, to Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett.
Msgr. Sniezyk said that the diocese was "caught between the need to protect the victims' desire for anonymity and the desire to investigate the allegations."
For nearly two years, the diocese has routinely reported allegations of sexual abuse of minors, no matter how old, to law enforcement. Until now, the names of alleged victims have come from the victims themselves, family members or others seeking an investigation of their claims, not from the media.
Late last week, Bennett said he was unaware of any accusations against the bishop before hearing them in the media. He said he would review all information turned over to him, and attempt to determine the truth of the allegations. He told local media that if they are found to be true, he had to determine if the bishop's acts were criminal, and prosecutable.
The statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases is generally 10 to 15 years.
By press time, state police assigned to Bennet's office had already interviewed Msgr. Sniezyk, Dupont and Laura Failla Reilly, the diocese's victims' advocate. An interview of Dupont on Saturday, Feb. 14 took four hours, he told the Observer.
On Feb. 12, Bennett told The Republican, "We are also encouraging news organizations to help us" in his investigation.
Two days later the newspaper reported for the first time that Bishop Dupre "had known since last year that the newspaper was investigating the allegations." It did not elaborate.
In the Feb. 15 Sunday Republican, publisher Larry McDermott did address his newspaper's unusual decision to "scoop itself" by posting news of the allegations against the bishop on its Web site before its print edition was published.
In his regular weekly column, McDermott said that since the paper "had breaking news to report," it decided to post its story on masslive.com, and "through our news partnership with WGGB-TV, the story was aired for local viewing on abc40's newscasts at 5:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m. and 11 p.m."
WGGB-TV has had a promotional arrangement with the Republican in which previews of the next day's paper are aired on the television station's 11 p.m. newscast. This was apparently the first time the two news outlets had co-promoted a breaking story with a timing that insured that it would also be reported on competing news outlets before the paper was printed.
The acceleration of the "news cycle" made the accusations against Bishop Dupre statewide news several hours before the state legislature was scheduled to vote on a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage.
This past January, the state's four bishops launched a high-profile campaign seeking support for the amendment. Promotional material distributed to the homes of a million Massachusetts Catholics featured prominent photographs of the state's four bishops. In the final weeks before his retirement, Bishop Dupre visited a different parish each weekend to preach personally on the sanctity of the marriage of a man and a woman and the importance of upholding the unique status of that relationship in society.
Priest claims report
Father James Scahill, an East Longmeadow priest who has been publicly critical of Bishop Dupre's handling of misconduct matters, told the Observer Feb. 15 that he had reported the alleged abuse last November to Archbishop O'Malley.
Father Scahill said that he called the archbishop's residence, not the Boston Chancery, on Nov. 14, 2003 at 11:41 a.m. He said that in his two-minute conversation with a female aide, he made it clear that he wanted to discuss an urgent matter about "the health of the Springfield Church."
Father Christopher Coyne, spokesperson for Archbishop O'Malley, told the Observer that the archbishop only learned of allegations against Bishop Dupre very recently. He said the archdiocese did not have phone records to prove or disprove whether Father Scahill telephoned the archbishop's residence.
But, he added, "Father Scahill as a priest must clearly know the procedures for reporting these matters. If he called, that is not one of them."
Father Coyne told the AP that Father Scahill should have gone through the proper channels by calling the (Springfield) diocese's sexual misconduct delegate's office and following up with a letter.
"An unsolicited phone call of such an ambiguous nature is not the way you handle serious matters such as this," he told the wire service.
But Father Scahill, citing the names of several witnesses to the call, told the Observer that "it was very clear from the manner in which I was speaking, and the tone in my voice, that someone needed to call me back." He added that he left three phone numbers for a return call.
Father Scahill said he realizes that archbishops do not personally return all the phone calls they receive, even from priests. But he expressed skepticism that the archbishop never received his message.
" I don't know if he didn't want to deal with it, or he contacted Bishop Dupre," he told the Observer.
Ann Hagan Webb, the New England coordinator of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a prepared statement Feb. 16 that "O'Malley owes Massachusetts Catholics, victims and law enforcement officials a speedy and thorough explanation of this situation."
On Feb. 11, almost immediately after news of the allegations against Bishop Dupre surfaced, SNAP's national president David Clohessy said that it "was troubling and sad that Dupre's duplicitous behavior has continued until the very end of his tenure." Clohessy said his group "aches for the Catholics of the Springfield Diocese, many of whom will feel deeply betrayed by Dupre's dishonesty."
In an interview with the Observer last week, MacLeish would not discuss any of his actions on behalf of his clients, or when they became his clients.
However, he did say, "I've seen nothing from the Archdiocese of Boston that would lead me to believe that Archbishop O'Malley has not fulfilled his responsibilities as metropolitan archbishop of Boston."
Through Father Coyne, archdiocesan attorney Thomas Hannigan, who is often the first to receive inquiries from plaintiffs' attorneys, said that he had never received any letter, e-mail or any other form of message about abuse by Bishop Dupre from any party.
The Observer has also learned that MacLeish has recently contacted Father Scahill's lawyer.
Father Scahill also told the Observer he contacted State Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly about Bishop Dupre on the same day he called Archbishop O'Malley.
Reilly, a native of Springfield's Liberty Heights neighborhood, had some time ago initiated contacts with Father Scahill after the priest became a prominent advocate for sexual abuse victims in the diocese, the Observer has learned.
Father Scahill said that, in contrast to his experience with the archbishop, an aide to Reilly returned his call. "I said that if I could get ten minutes of his time, I would drive to Boston." Reilly called back to tell him that coincidently, he was coming to the Springfield area to announce a drug bust, and would meet him at his East Longmeadow rectory.
Ann Donlan, a spokeswoman for Reilly, confirmed that the attorney general met with Father Scahill last November.
"The identity of the victim was not passed on. The attorney general made it clear that the matter would be referred to the district attorney's office if the victim came forward," Donlan told the AP.
Father Scahill told the Observer that he had, in part, met with Reilly to make sure that he was fulfilling his legal obligations. The attorney general told him that under the state's new law making clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse, he was not obligated to report the suspected abuse to police because the alleged victims are now adults.
Failla Reilly told diocesan employees Feb. 12 that she had been approached by Father Scahill on New Year's Day at St. Michael Church in East Longmeadow, where she is a parishoner.
She said that the priest told her "in confidence" that there was a woman charging that two boys had been abused by the bishop. Failla Reilly said she asked Father Scahill to urge the woman to come forward to the diocese. She added that Father Scahill had a similar conversation a short time later with a member of the diocesan review board who is also a St. Michael's parishoner.
Father Scahill never got back to her, Failla Reilly said.
She told the Observer that, like the attorney general, there was nothing she could do without having a name of a victim. "You never first take accusations to perpetrators," she said, noting that if the bishop were guilty of misconduct, that approach would only give him a chance to concoct an alibi before investigators arrived.
Bishop Dupre's episcopacy
Bishop Dupre, 70, has been a bishop since 1990, when he became the diocese's second auxiliary bishop. He replaced the late Bishop Leo E. O'Neil, who later became the Bishop of Manchester, N.H.
As head of one of the four Latin-rite Catholic dioceses in Massachusetts, Bishop Dupre was often involved in public policy issues in the state.
He joined with the state's other bishops in opposing political efforts to reinstate the death penalty and to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
They also worked together to seek state and federal bans on partial-birth abortions and to call on Catholic voters to keep in mind the "absolute centrality" of life issues when electing public officials.
Following fatal shootings at two Boston abortion clinics in late 1994, he and other bishops of the state called for a moratorium on all clinic protests and prayer vigils until an atmosphere of calm and civil discourse could be restored.
In a joint pastoral letter in 2000, he and the other bishops urged Catholics to be "instruments of mercy, forgiveness and healing" to the 20,000 men and women in Bay State prisons.
Thomas Ludger Dupre was born Nov. 10, 1933, in South Hadley Falls. He was ordained a priest by Springfield Bishop Christopher J. Weldon in 1959 following studies in Montreal at the Seminary of Philosophy and the Grand Seminary of St. Sulpice. He later did graduate studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, earning a doctorate in canon law in 1967.
He was diocesan vicar general and had served 13 years as chancellor when he was made auxiliary bishop of Springfield under Bishop Joseph F. Maguire in 1990. He had also been a pastor, served on the diocesan tribunal and worked with Vietnamese refugees in the diocese.
He was administrator of the diocese following the death of Bishop John A. Marshall in July 1994. The following March he was named the Seventh Bishop of Springfield.
In a 1999 pastoral letter, Bishop Dupre urged renewal of Sunday worship as a high priority throughout the diocese. "No act is more central to the life of the Catholic community of faith than the celebration of this meal which Jesus left in his memory," he wrote.
In 2001 he and Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of the neighboring Diocese of Worcester joined with the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in signing a historic three-faith ecumenical covenant. The covenant committed the churches to a three-year program of spiritual, theological and social ecumenism through dialogue and mutual collaboration.
Like many other dioceses across the country in the past two years, the Springfield Diocese had to deal with the clergy sexual abuse crisis during Bishop Dupre's time as diocesan bishop.
The most notorious case in Springfield was that of convicted child molester Richard R. Lavigne, suspended from all ministry since his 1991 arrest on charges of rape and sexual abuse of children, and the object of more than 30 sexual abuse lawsuits against the diocese. Lavigne is also the only publicly identified suspect in the unsolved 1972 killing of 13-year-old Daniel Croteau.
On Jan. 20 Bishop Dupre announced that the pope had granted his request and issued a decree laicizing Lavigne.
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