Ex-Bishop Close to Immigrants

By Chris Hamel
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 22, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - On a cold, gray Saturday afternoon in February 1996, less than a year into his tenure as bishop of Springfield's Catholic diocese, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre celebrated Mass in familiar company, surrounded by a fervent sea of immigrants and refugees.

The service at Holy Name Church preceded the Vietnamese community's marking of the Lunar New Year with an annual party in the parish social center, an event at which Dupre was to become a revered guest.

For Dupre, 70, who speaks three languages and was the diocese's first bishop of French-Canadian ancestry, participation in such ceremonies was part of a personal history of outreach to newcomers, who came here from geographic points as diverse as Europe, Canada, South and Central America, the Caribbean and Asia.

But that history took a jolting twist last week, when a mansaid the retired bishop plied him with gay pornography andThomas L. Dupresexually abused him after he arrived in America as a 12-year-old refugee almost 30 years ago.

But in 1996, Dupre was still making efforts on behalf of newcomers - some of whom had cheated death to get here - that were greeted with admiration, respect and gestures of gratitude. Addressing his homily to the more than 100 Vietnamese in attendance that February - many of whom had resettled here in the Forest Park neighborhood that surrounds the church - Dupre praised the community's commitment to family life and called it "a blessing" for America.

Dupre retired early and checked himself into an undisclosed medical center Feb. 11, a day after The Republican confronted him with questions about allegations of sexual abuse of two minors when Dupre was a parish priest.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston lawyer representing two alleged victims, said in a written statement Thursday that one of the victims was a 12-year-old refugee whom Dupre - then in his early 40s - befriended and offered to teach English.

MacLeish said the boy arrived in the United States in 1975 with many family members, but that his father was unable to come with them. The family, which was Catholic and sponsored by a diocesan parish, arrived in this area after coming from a Pennsylvania refugee center, he said.

MacLeish did not identify the boy's ethnic background, nor the country from which his family fled. Neither victim has made his identity public, and no other individuals have made accusations against Dupre.

The allegations sent a shock wave through the diocese, but were perhaps particularly painful for the many immigrants Dupre took into the fold of the local church.

Mark E. Dupont, diocesan spokesman, said Dupre had a particular affinity for newcomers to America.

"He had an immigrant mentality, when it came to the church," Dupont said. "He understood the difficulties facing immigrants."

The diocese ministers to a variety of immigrant populations, including Koreans and Haitians and natives of South and Central America.

Dupre, according to some in the immigrant community, took a special interest in the welfare of some families. When he was installed as bishop in 1995, some said he was not only their bishop, but a family friend who had celebrated holidays with them in their homes.

His parish assignments before he became bishop included churches with long histories of service to immigrant populations. Many had fled unspeakable horrors in their homelands, ranging from the fall of Saigon after the Vietnam War, and later, to civil war in Haiti.

Dupre, in light of his own heritage, was in some ways ideally suited to minister to America's newcomers. In 1990, when he was installed as the diocese's auxiliary bishop, he noted his blood was a mix of French-Canadian, Welsh and Indian.

He said his father was born in the Canadian province of New Brunswick and his mother's lineage reached back to the province of Quebec. Dupre speaks English, French and Spanish.

Dupont said Dupre's priesthood, amplified by his French language skills, took him through assignments, or residencies, in several parishes that had histories of serving French-speaking parishioners - St. Joseph's in Springfield in 1966; St. John the Baptist, Ludlow, as assistant pastor, 1970-1973; Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, Chicopee, 1973-1977; St. Louis de France, West Springfield, pastor, 1978-1990; and St. Thomas Aquinas, Springfield, pastor, 1990.

The accusation that Dupre preyed upon a vulnerable refugee is apparently unique in a clergy sexual abuse scandal that has unfolded nationwide. Dupre is also the only New England bishop and is among just a handful across the country accused of such conduct.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said last week that a refugee, particularly one fleeing violence and chaos without a father, would be particularly vulnerable.

Several people who have worked on behalf of immigrant populations expressed shock and concern at hearing of the accusations.

Juliette Hanh Nguyen of Springfield, executive director of the state Office for Refugees and Immigrants, said the accusations were a first in her office.

"It's a concern, of course," she said. "(But) overall, I'm looking at positives. Millions (of people, without incident) have been resettled nationally."

The church played a significant role in helping to resettle Southeast Asian immigrants, among others.

A Southeast Asian Apostolate, composed mainly of Vietnamese and based at Holy Name Church in Springfield, is probably the only congregation of its kind in the diocese, Dupont said. An apostolate has the same status as a parish, but is not situated as such on specific property, he said.

The Southeast Asian Apostolate here is under the direction of the Rev. Quynh D. Tran, a native of Vietnam. He said it has more than 500 registered members, who live throughout the area.

It previously was based at the former St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Springfield, and first was at St. Louis de France Church in West Springfield, Dupont said.

Tran said the apostolate was moved in 1997 to Holy Name here. A constant presence in helping to establish the apostolate was the late Rev. John M. Pham, who lived in a Holyoke rectory, but traveled to other churches to serve as chaplain to Vietnamese Catholics.

Dupont said that Dupre's close bond with Vietnamese Catholics was forged during his time at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, a parish that is now yoked to St. Mary's Church in Chicopee's Willimansett section.

Dupont said Dupre only lived at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, where the Rev. W. Donald Fournier, now retired, was pastor. At the time, Dupre's work as a canon lawyer was with the diocese's Tribunal Office, which oversees such matters as marriage annulments.

Around 1975 and 1976, after the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon to the communists in 1975, this area began to see its first trickle of native Southeast Asian Catholics, Dupont said. At least one family moved into a vacant convent at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, he said.

He said Fournier, who was a military chaplain, had taken an interest in Southeast Asian resettlement efforts, but stipulated that any newcomers to the parish property be fluent in French. Because Vietnam once had been under France's rule, many of its people were familiar, not only with French culture and custom, but with the French language.

Dupont said that it was through informal contact with the parish's new arrivals that Dupre built ties to newcomers of Southeast Asian descent, particularly the Vietnamese.

"There did seem to be a sort of mutual relationship between the (Southeast Asian) community, then settling in, and then-Father Dupre," he said.

Dupre often ministered to immigrant populations, including Christmas Eve Masses, and participated in community celebrations, such as the start of the Lunar New Year celebrated by the Vietnamese, Dupont said.

The priest's dedication was appreciated by the community. When he was installed as the seventh bishop of the Springfield Diocese in 1995, some Vietnamese were among immigrants attending. They also attended such services as a remembrance Mass led by Dupre at St. Michael's Cathedral in 2001, in recognition of the victims of the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11 of that year.

But Dupre's ministerial umbrella and appeal also encompassed many other ethnicities. Prayers were offered at Dupre's 1995 installation in about 12 different languages, including English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Polish, Italian, Gaelic, Vietnamese, German, Lithuanian and Slovak.

"Bishop Dupre is very fond of the ethnic minorities in the diocese," Pham said at the time of the installation.

He also cited the strong link between Dupre and the area's Vietnamese Catholics.

"We consider him our own bishop," he said.


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