Men Who Claim Abuse by Bishop Dupre
To Tell Stories to Prosecutor and Church

By Bill Pomerleau
Downloaded February 27, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Two men alleging that they had been abused by retired Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre indirectly told their stories to the public through their attorney, and directly talked to a prosecutor this week.

By late afternoon Feb. 26, a preliminary church investigation of the charges against the bishop was also underway.

According to the 'Statement of Episcopal Commitment' adopted by the U.S. bishops' at the same time as their 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Persons,' the metropolitan, or archbishop in an ecclesiastical province is informed of allegations of abuse against a bishop. In the case of the Diocese of Springfield, that is Boston Archbishop S'an O'Malley.

However, the actual investigation is conducted by the Vatican itself, according to a Feb. 26 statement by the diocese.

Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the diocese, told The Catholic Observer that a planned meeting between at least one of the alleged victims and Boston archdiocesan victim advocate Barbara Thorpe will take place Friday. Springfield's victim advocate Laura Failla Reilly has been invited to also attend the meeting, designed to allow the victims to "tell their stories" to the church.

Dupont told the Observer Feb.26 that until recently, the diocese was uncertain about what the next steps would be in the ecclesiastical investigation after the initial meetings with the alleged victims. He said the diocese was trying to avoid a scenario where the alleged victims would be required to recount their stories several times, he said.

' We recognize that there has been a lack of clarity of jurisdiction regarding these matters. It is unfortunate for the victims who have gone out of their way to facilitate such an investigation,' said Dupont.

After consulting with canonical experts, the diocese has determined that any information it gathers will be forwarded to the Vatican through the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C.

Following the guidelines of the U.S. bishops' 'Dallas Charter,' copies of any information forwarded to Rome will be given to Archbishop O'Malley for informational purposes only.

The diocese will also, under its own procedures, give the same information to Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett, who has launched an investigation into the accusations against the bishop.

The diocesan review board will also receive a copy for its records.

The diocese previously announced that it had already arranged to pay for counseling to both alleged victims. Under the diocesan misconduct policies, all persons making accusations of abuse against a member of the clergy are routinely offered counseling, even before an investigation of the veracity of their claims is completed.

Bennett's probe

By press time, Bennett had interviewed one of Bishop Dupre's alleged victims, who lives somewhere in Massachusetts, on Feb. 24. The meeting took place at the offices of Boston office of attorney Roderick MacLeish, who is representing both alleged victims.

Bennett was scheduled to talk to the other victim, who lives in California, on Feb. 25, according to press reports.

Dupont told the media Feb. 25 that the diocese had been asked by Bennett not to go through the bishop's private files or living quarters until Bennett completes his investigation.

In a Feb.20 interview with The Boston Globe, the district attorney hinted that he might obtain a warrant to search diocesan records for documents suggesting that the diocese had withheld evidence about the extent of the clergy abuse problem in the diocese.

' We're proceeding, but I can't go into the specifics of that,' he said, declining to elaborate.

Bennett did not mention a possible search of diocesan records in an interview a few hours earlier with Catholic Communications, or with other local media.

For nearly two years, the diocese has routinely reported allegations of sexual abuse of minors, no matter how old, to law enforcement. While it has withheld privileged medical records and legal correspondence, it has consistently maintained that the identities of all credibly accused priests it knows about have been passed on to law enforcement.

Besides the alleged victims, the prosecutor has already spoken to diocesan administrator Msgr. Richard S. Sniezyk, Failla Reilly, Dupont and MacLeish.

In his interview with Catholic Communications, Bennett said he was unaware of accusations against Bishop Dupre until hearing about them in the media. He said if they are found to be true, he had to determine if the bishop's acts were criminal, and prosecutable.

Bennett said that the rules governing the statute of limitations in Massachusetts are complicated. They depend on the age of the victim, the nature of the crime, and the state of the law at the time the crimes occurred. He said that generally, the limitation on prosecuting the rape of a child occurs 15 years after the child turns 16 years old.

However, he added, it is far too early in his investigation to answer questions about statute of limitations.

Bennett said that if the bishop is alleged to have committed crimes outside of Massachusetts, Bennett will be in contact with law enforcement agencies outside his jurisdiction.

He declined to comment on a Boston media report that he dispatched state police last week to interview Bishop Dupre at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., but called the officers back when contacted by the bishop's attorney.

Bennett did note that criminal suspects have a Fifth Amendment right to decline police questioning before their arrest.

Michael Jennings, a prominent Springfield defense attorney who represents Bishop Dupre, told The Republican Feb. 19 that he had advised his client not to publicly respond to the allegations, "although that could change down the road."

Bishop Dupre is paying his own legal expenses. Since the beginning of the sexual abuse crisis in 1991, the diocese has never paid the legal expenses of accused priests, although there has been some discussion of reimbursing clergy if they are exonerated of the charges against them.

Within days of the bishop's resignation, the Diocese of Springfield informed Bennett of his whereabouts. At the request of the bishop and his doctor, the diocese is not revealing where the bishop is now to the general public.

MacLeish and various media have said that the bishop is at the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., a secure medical facility that treats clergy and religious with emotional, psychological and substance abuse problems. In recent years, it has been best known for evaluating and treating church personnel accused of sexual misconduct.

Its director, Father Stephen Rosetti, is a psychologist. He is also a licensed psychotherapist with a doctorate in ministry.

Stunning developments

For most local Catholics, a series of stunning developments began on the morning of Feb. 11, when the diocese announced that Pope John Paul II had accepted Bishop Dupre's early retirement for health reasons.

Within hours of what appeared to be a routine press conference and meeting of diocesan employees to discuss the retirement, The Republican revealed in on on-line preview of its Feb. 12 newspaper that it had 'confronted" the bishop early the previous day "with accusations that he had sexually abused two minor boys three decades ago when he was a priest."

The newspaper said that it had first received an anonymous tip about the allegations more than a year ago, and had spent months conducting interviews in an attempt to corroborate the allegations.

The paper did not state that it had found corroboration. It quoted the mother of one of the alleged victims, whom it described as 'a longtime diocesan school worker.' In an expanded story the next morning, the Springfield newspaper included several new comments from the woman, whom it reported had 'tried unsuccessfully for months to persuade her now adult son to publicly press charges.'

The identities of the alleged victims, now 39- and 40-year-old men, were all but made public late last week when The Republican newspaper of Springfield revealed details of the life story of one of the men, and WWLP-TV posted the complete text of a media advisory from Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish on its Web site.

Despite its circulation elsewhere, the Observer is continuing to not publish information that would make it easier for Catholics in certain locations of the diocese to surmise the parishes and family names of the victims.

MacLeish, a prominent attorney involved in misconduct cases in the Archdiocese of Boston, confirmed in a statement issued through his law firm, Greenberg Traurig, late Feb. 19 that 'our clients' names are known by many and that some details of the abuse have been disseminated to media in the Springfield area and to other individuals.'

The lawyer noted that since 'the widespread dissemination of information makes it inevitable that details of the abuse will be released,' his clients were coming public with details of their allegations because they wish their information to be accurate and in their own words.

MacLeish said in Feb. 25 press accounts that his second client has told authorities about an anonymous e-mail sent to Bishop Dupre in November or December of 2002 that referred to the bishop's relationship to the two men.

' Bishop Dupre accused my client of betraying him, of revealing their relationship, and told him about the e-mail. My client told Bishop Dupre he did not send the e-mail and had not betrayed him,' MacLeish told the Globe.

The same day, The Republican revealed that it too had received a similar e-mail. The paper did not specify if it was the original tip that had begun its investigation of the bishop.

The original Republican report, which was apparently based primarily on an interview with the mother, said that her son was about 13, and the other victim was a pre-teen when the abuse began.

MacLeish's later statement said that his first client, the California man, was a newly arrived, 12-year-old refugee in the Springfield area when he was first abused by then-Father Dupre in 1975.

According to MacLeish's chronology, his first client said he showed materials purchased by the priest to a high school friend, who subsequently also became involved in the sexual abuse. The first victim, was around 14 when he claims he introduced his friend to Father Dupre, and ended his sexual involvement with the bishop when he began dating a girl. The other alleged victim, the son of the woman who talked to the Republican, said he had a sexual relationship with the priest from age 15 to 20.

Later contacts

MacLeish's statement said that both of his clients maintained contact with the bishop after their abuse. Without specifying a time, it said that Father Dupre or Bishop Dupre sent money to his victims 'on certain occasions,' but insisted that 'at no time was any money by either of our clients a condition of silence.'

During his interview with Bennett, the second client provided credit card and telephone records that documented his relationship to the bishop. But MacLeish told the Associated Press that those materials, in themselves, were not evidence of abuse.

MacLeish has said that his second client, who initially believed that Bishop Dupre loved him and cared about him, came to understand by December 2002, that his relationship with the bishop was abusive.

MacLeish also described his first, California client as a man who came out as gay in the late 1980s.

The lawyer told the Globe Feb. 21 that the man 'was reading an account in a newspaper that circulates in the gay and lesbian community about how Dupre had taken a leading role in denouncing gay marriage, becoming furious at what he saw as Dupre's arrogance and hypocrisy.'

The report about Bishop Dupre's comments on gay marriage at two Greenfield parishes last month, 'triggered the resolve to hold Dupre accountable for the alleged abuse,' the Boston paper reported.

Presently, observers are still attempting to piece together the complicated set of developments that led to the bishop's retirement.

Reports in The Republican indicated that the mother of MacLeish's second victim wrote Bishop Dupre with her allegations last spring, weeks before the bishop told the paper that he might retire earlier than the usual episcopal retirement age of 75.

The Republican reported that it had first contacted the mother a few months earlier, in December 2002. She later confronted her son with the possibility that he had been abused by the bishop, and the son acknowledged the abuse, according the newspaper.

She wrote Bishop Dupre a second time last fall 'after watching him on television saying he wanted to facilitate a fund to help financially support sexually abusive priests,' according to The Republican.

Bishop Dupre had discussed the fund on an Oct. 8 special edition of the Catholic Communications program 'Real to Reel.' In November, the bishop submitted a retirement request to the pope.

The exact timing of the woman's second letter in relationship to the bishop's retirement request is still unclear.

MacLeish told the Republican Feb. 26, 'I believe there is more information the diocese has. And I don't believe (Bishop) Dupre left with no explanations.'

Msgr. Sniezyk, who was elected administrator of the diocese Feb. 13, said Feb. 11, 'I am unaware of any of the allegations raised in the article published on-line this evening. I can assure you that if any individual brought forth a complaint against any member of the diocesan community, including the bishop, it would be thoroughly investigated. With regard to these matters, no individual has ever come forward to allege that they had been the victim of misconduct by the bishop.'

Meanwhile this week, clergy and lay persons in the diocese were vigorously discussing the comments by the diocese's administrator that an 'old boy network' of some priests had tolerated the sexual abuse of minors by priests (click here). At the same time, a media outlet reported that long-planned settlement talks between various persons suing the Diocese of Springfield for mishandling the sexual misconduct of its priests had begun (click here).


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.