Rape Prosecution Possible

By Bea O'Quinn Dewberry
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 23, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - As the Hampden County District Attorney's office widens its investigation into accusations former Bishop Thomas L. Dupre raped two boys in the 1970s and 1980s, questions remain about how and if the case can ever be criminally prosecuted.

So far, neither of the alleged victims has filed charges, and the alleged crimes may be too old to fall within the statute of limitations. But legal analysts say it still may be possible to bring a criminal case.

Dupre, who retired abruptly Feb. 11 after The Republican confronted him with the sexual abuse allegations, checked himself into an undisclosed medical center and has been advised by his lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, not to make any statements. A lawyer for the men said the bishop is at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which has treated pedophile priests.

Lawyers for the two men issued a statement last week saying the bishop introduced the two boys, one of whom was a 12-year-old refugee, to homosexual sex and gay pornography after taking one under his wing when he was a parish priest about 28 years ago.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said he is actively pursuing an investigation and will meet with one of the men this week to hear his story. There have been cases when the district attorney's office has chosen to go forward with charges even if a victim does not want to come forward, such as those involving domestic violence, Bennett said.

Bennett's staff has questioned several diocesan officials, including Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, who will serve as administrator of the diocese until a new bishop is named by the Vatican.

"We need to review to determine if there is a crime, do the victims wish to go forward, and is the statute of limitations an impediment to that kind of prosecution," Bennett said. "All of the answers to these questions are very fact-specific."

Some lawyers believe the statute of limitations can be sidestepped because Dupre allegedly continued contact with the two men into the 1990s.

Dupre asked the men to promise to keep the abuse quiet when he was appointed auxiliary bishop in 1990, saying it would be an "embarrassment for the church" if the men spoke of it, according to their statement. The men, now 39 and 40, said they agreed to do so.

Dupre continued to keep in touch with both men after becoming bishop in 1995, sending cards on holidays and birthdays, and sometimes including money, the men have said.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., the lawyer for the men, said neither expected money in return for his silence. The men issued their statement only after The Republican made the allegations public.

Bennett said the duration of the abuse and the conduct of the alleged abuser after the acts occurred can possibly extend the time window for criminal prosecution.

The criminal statute of limitations has been a barrier in prosecuting clergy sex abuse cases.

In cases of sexual offenses, the current law states that cases must be prosecuted within 15 years of the offense.

The clock starts ticking when the victim reaches age 16 or from the first report to law enforcement. However, the statute of limitations has been changed several times in the past several decades.

The current law dates back to 1996. The statute of limitations was six years between 1989 and 1994, 10 years between 1985 and 1988, and six years before 1985.

In the case of clergy abuse alleged to have occurred years ago, Bennett said the views and concerns of the victims determine how the case might proceed.

Another potential issue in the case is whether a federal statute would apply that allows prosecution of someone who is even suspected of bringing a minor across state lines for a sexual act.

The men said Dupre brought them on various out-of-state trips, even out of the country to Canada, to buy gay pornography and to have sex.

Under current law, the mere intent to commit a sexual act with a juvenile makes it a crime to travel across state lines, and a 1998 amendment boosted the maximum sentence for those convicted from 10 years to 15 years in jail.

Civil suits against abusive priests have been far more successful because of interpretations of the statute of limitations law, including that the victim has three years to file charges from the point when it becomes evident that harm has been done.

In September, after months of negotiations, the Boston Archdiocese agreed to pay $85 million to more than 500 people who claimed Roman Catholic priests sexually abused them. The settlement agreement was the largest known payout by a U.S. diocese to settle molestation charges.

John J. Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer who has represented dozens of clients who have alleged priest abuse, said many people were unable to recognize the effects of their childhood abuse until the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston two years ago.

"If they made that connection at that time, they would have approximately a year to file suit," Stobierski said.

Stobierski and MacLeish, who has represented hundreds of priest abuse clients, said many people repress the abuse for years.

As a result, Stobierski said, some victims choose not to go through with litigation.

The men who have accused Dupre have not decided whether they will file suit, MacLeish said.

"That has not even come up in discussion," MacLeish said, adding the two men have been working hard to handle the public release of their stories.

Frustrated by an inability to prosecute many of the recent cases of clergy sexual abuse, state prosecutors last year backed a proposal to eliminate the statute of limitations in rape cases.

State Rep. Martin Walsh, D-Boston, filed a bill on behalf of Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley last year that sought to eliminate the statute for cases involving the rape or attempted rape of both children and adults. The bill died in committee by the close of the legislative session.

Most of the cases that have been referred to district attorneys around the state since the national priest sex abuse scandal erupted two years ago have not resulted in criminal charges because the cases are too old to prosecute under the current law.

MacLeish said at least 10 states have abolished a statute of limitations for child rape.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said existing laws need to be strengthened.

Differences in statute laws have resulted in stark differences in the number and kind of cases that have been prosecuted involving clergy abuse.

During the mid 1990s, at least 12 abusive priests were publicly removed from a Belleville, Ill., diocese, while a neighboring diocese in St. Louis, Mo., had none removed over the same period of time, even though it has five times the number of priests.

At that time the statute of limitations in Illinois enabled those harmed by abuse to seek legal action, even after the fact, while Missouri statutes limited prosecution.

Patrick W. Noaker, a lawyer with Jeff Anderson and Associates in St. Paul, Minn., which has handled more than a thousand priest abuse cases, said the statutes should not prevent prosecutors from investigating priest abuse claims.

Since the church scandal erupted with the conviction of John Geoghan, who was ousted from the priesthood and sentenced to prison for molesting 86 victims in the Boston Archdiocese, at least 325 of America's 46,000 priests were removed from duty or resigned because of molestation claims.

"There's a moral duty for a prosecutor to step in here no matter how old the case is," Noaker said.


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