Hundreds Gather to Pray for Healing

By Michael McAuliffe
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 19, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Several hundred people from Western Massachusetts and beyond gathered last night for a prayer service at St. Michael's Cathedral, one week after Thomas L. Dupre retired as bishop following questions about the alleged sexual abuse of two boys years ago.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, the interim administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, presided over the bilingual English-Spanish vespers service. Sniezyk acknowledged those in attendance came with "broken hearts" and "betrayed hearts," but he told fellow Catholics not to lose faith.

"If we turn away from the church, we turn away from one another," he said, adding: "We are presently suffering a crisis of faith, but in this new millennium we will hear Jesus say again to us ... 'Fear not, be not afraid. I am with you always, even to the end of the world.'"

Sniezyk said those gathered in the church included Catholics and non-Catholics, and that people had come from Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties - the area encompassed by the diocese - and beyond.

Among those in attendance were the Most Rev. Joseph F. Maguire, bishop emeritus, and the Right Rev. Gordon P. Scruton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

Dupre, 70, who became bishop in 1995, checked himself into an undisclosed medical facility and retired last week after The Republican confronted him with detailed questions about whether he abused two boys beginning more than two decades ago. The Hampden County district attorney is investigating.

The newspaper learned of the alleged abuse through a tip, and the mother of one of the alleged victims said she confirmed the allegations with her son. She also said she sent Dupre an angry letter about the matter.

She said Dupre never responded to the letter, and that several weeks after she sent the letter Dupre told the newspaper he expected to resign earlier than the bishop's mandatory retirement age of 75. He cited heart problems as the reason for the likely early retirement, and the diocese said he sought Vatican approval - which was granted - to retire early.

Before last night's service, a number of those who attended spoke about coming to the cathedral.

"We're just hoping that it'll bring healing to the diocese," said Judithann M. Goonan of Chicopee.

"Priests are hurt," said Southwick resident Mary L. Guzik. "I've been talking to some of the priests this week."

As to Dupre, Guzik said, "I still actually have a lot of love and admiration for him, and I do feel for him."

Ronald S. Chmielewski of Springfield said he will no longer place priests on a pedestal.

"They're human beings like we are," said Chmielewski, who added he was "devasted" by the issue.

But Chmielewski also said his faith has not been broken.

"God didn't let me down," he said.