Accusers to Meet with DA

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 24, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Both men who say they were sexually abused as boys by the retired Catholic bishop will meet with the district attorney today even as controversy continues over statements by the diocese's interim leader about the history of clergy abuse.

The interim administrator, Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, last night clarified a report in the Boston Globe that quoted him as saying some priests in the past thought it was OK to have sex with young men. Last week Sniezyk told The Republican the diocese had to "come clean" about "an old boy network" that allowed abuse to go unchecked.

His latest comments caused an uproar.

"Let me be clear and unequivocal. I did not mean to suggest, nor do I believe to be true, that sexual misconduct in any context is ever acceptable," he said. "I am deeply sorry if my comments, as well intended as they may have been ... caused distress to the faithful, or unnecessary and unfounded suspicion of the priests of my diocese."

While lay people expressed outrage about the comments yesterday, priests gathered and expressed concerns about the clergy's own psychological free-fall from recent events.

The two men who say they were sexually abused as minors by former Bishop Thomas L. Dupre will be interviewed today by investigators of the Hampden County District Attorney's Office.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett refused to discuss details of the investigation yesterday, saying he will release a report upon the completion of the investigation. He has not ruled out criminal charges.

However, Roderick MacLeish Jr., the Boston lawyer representing the men, who are now 40 and 39, said both are scheduled to be interviewed by investigators today. Only one alleged victim initially agreed to be interviewed, but the other man decided in the past few days to be questioned about the abuse they say started when they were 12 and 13 years old.

Dupre has not responded to the allegations.

Yesterday, Dupre's lawyer Michael O. Jennings declined comment.

"We will have to find out more about the allegations and the investigation before we respond," Jennings said.

In the most recent story, Sniezyk said that some priests between the 1960s and 1980s viewed sex with young men as acceptable.

"They did good ministry, they were good to their people, they were kind, compassionate, but they had no idea what they were doing to these young men that they were abusing," Sniezyk told a correspondent for the Boston newspaper. "It was that era of the '60s - most of it took place from the mid-'60s to the early-'80s - and the whole atmosphere out there was, it was OK, it was OK to do.

"Certainly that atmosphere is not present in the church today," he said.

In his statement last night, Sniezyk said his comments were honest attempts to place the abuse crisis in historical context.

"Clearly, those who have preyed upon our children have justified their actions in many different ways, including the delusion that they, the abusers, were not harming the children, when in fact they were causing great and long-term harm. They clearly benefited from a society that set the priesthood apart and allowed abusers to go unchallenged in a behavior, which today clearly would be recognized as wrong," the statement read.

Neal E. Smith, a 69-year-old former priest from Whately, said Sniezyk should apologize to unfairly maligned priests and resign.

"Words fail to express the outrage I feel," he said. "I wasn't even aware that pedophilia existed when I was involved in ministry."

Smith was ordained in 1960 and spent 10 years in ministry before marrying and starting a career in education, counseling and farming.

Elizabeth A. Mascaro of Wilbraham, who has two of her three children in Catholic schools, called Sniezyk's original comments warped.

"I would like to give my children the same (faith) foundation (that I received), but I don't know if there will be anything left when all the lies are uncovered. It is really scary, and quite frankly, I am disgusted," Mascaro said.

MacLeish said his clients expressed shock when they read Sniezyk's comments.

"Is he saying physically raping another person is OK? I see this as a prelude to understanding Bishop Dupre," MacLeish said.

"The irony is that when he says this, he is trying to explain away what is increasingly apparent, that in the Springfield Diocese there was a cabal of child molesters who were protected by diocesan officials," said MacLeish.

Warren E. Mason of East Longmeadow, an outspoken critic of the diocese's handling of sexual abuse, said, "While the comment itself is horrifying, the thought process is even more horrifying."

Also yesterday, several groups of priests gathered in different regions of the diocese to express concerns.

"Many of us are disappointed and discouraged just as the people in the pews are," said the Rev. Norman B. Bolton, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Holyoke.

Bolton was one of about 12 Greater Holyoke priests who met at Holy Cross Parish in Holyoke yesterday.

"We need the support of one another. We are not all abusers," Bolton said.

The group will be sending a letter to diocesan consultors urging a meeting of all priests in the diocese.

"All we know is what we read in the newspaper. We talked about the need for us to gather together as a diocesan presbyterate," said Bolton, adding that the Archdiocese of Boston brought in psychologists to help clergy through this scandal.

"There is a psychological and sociological aspect to this. Our spirituality alone cannot sustain us," Bolton said.

The diocese has experienced shock and confusion since Feb. 11 when Dupre unexpectedly announced his immediate retirement. Diocesan officials cited health concerns as the reason, but the resignation came one day after The Republican confronted Dupre with allegations that he sexually abused two minors over several years beginning more than 20 years ago.

Neither alleged victim has filed suit.

The Republican's questions to Dupre were based upon more than a year's investigation and allegations presented by the mother of one of the victims.

After the story was published, the men came forward and revealed more of the details of the alleged abuse through their lawyers. They say Dupre gave them alcohol and used gay pornography he kept in a briefcase as a prelude to abusing them.

Dupre has not contacted diocesan officials since retiring and checking into an undisclosed medical facility for undisclosed treatment.

MacLeish said the bishop is being treated at St. Luke's Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which is known for treating pedophile priests. The institute, citing privacy laws, has not confirmed that.


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