Ex-Bishop Retains Lawyer

By Bea O'Quinn Dewberry
Newsday [United States]
February 19, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Former Bishop Thomas L. Dupre has hired a prominent criminal defense lawyer, who said he advised his client against responding to allegations that he sexually abused two boys more than two decades ago.

Michael O. Jennings, a criminal lawyer with an office in Springfield, said he was hired by Dupre after meeting with him to discuss the accusations that Dupre sexually abused two boys when he was a parish priest.

The mother of one of the boys said one child was around 13 and another a preteen when the alleged abuse began in the 1970s. In her son's case, the relationship continued into the 1980s, she said.

Jennings, a criminal lawyer for more than three decades, said he advised Dupre not to respond to the allegations reported; however, "that could change down the road," he said.

Jennings said he was retained to protect Dupre's interests in light of an investigation launched by the Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett. Jennings, a member of the Hampden County Bar Association, was a law partner of Bennett's when Bennett was a defense lawyer.

Mark A. Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, said the bishop's legal fees will not be paid by the diocese. He said the diocese had not paid legal fees for any priests accused of sexual abuse.

Dupre, 70, checked himself into an undisclosed medical facility and retired last week as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield after The Republican confronted him with detailed questions about the alleged abuse. The newspaper learned of the alleged abuse through a tip, and the mother said she confirmed the allegations with her son.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, who will serve as administrator until a bishop is named by the Vatican, said he had not been in contact with Dupre since his resignation. He said earlier that he will write Dupre a letter asking him to contact the diocese to confront the allegations.

Sniezyk commented on the situation during a press conference yesterday held in Granby to announce a $9 million fund-raising campaign to build a new Holyoke Catholic Regional High School in that town. The school is currently housed at the former St. Hyacinth Seminary in Granby.

"This is an unusual time to make this decision (to launch the fund-raiser). However, the process was well under way when Bishop Dupre's resignation was accepted by the Vatican last week," Sniezyk said.

Dupre, who has said he has heart problems, cited health reasons for his retirement Feb. 11. The diocese said he sought Vatican approval in November to retire before the mandatory age of 75.

Jennings would not say whether Dupre remained at the undisclosed facility he checked into Feb. 10, but did say Dupre continued to receive treatment.

Jennings, who is Catholic, said he had no prior relationship with the diocese or the bishop. Although he has counseled priests accused of sexual abuse, Jennings said none had hired him for representation.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston lawyer representing the two alleged victims, said he is awaiting word from the Archdiocese of Boston to schedule a meeting to discuss the allegations. MacLeish, who has handled hundreds of priest abuse cases in Boston, said his clients have agreed to allow a representative from the Springfield diocese to attend.

MacLeish said he and his clients have not talked about taking legal action against Dupre or the diocese.

Laura Failla Reilly, victims advocate for the Springfield diocese, will serve as the local diocesan representative.

Dupont said any information gathered by Reilly at the meeting will be turned over to the district attorney's office.