Vatican to Decide Dupre's Fate

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 27, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield will lead the investigation into the allegations that former Bishop Thomas L. Dupre sexually abused two minors, but the Vatican will decide any possible action against him.

A day after apologizing to the alleged victims for confusion surrounding a potential investigation, the Springfield diocese announced yesterday the process for the investigation.

Officials from both the Springfield diocese and the Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday the confusion was related to the unique task before them. Dupre is the first bishop in New England accused of sexual abuse of minors and could be the first in the United States criminally prosecuted if the district attorney presses charges.

In following the 2002 U.S. bishops' policy on clergy sexual abuse, all allegations other than those against a bishop are investigated by local diocesan review boards.

"This is an odd situation. I don't think anyone anticipated this situation arising when the policy was established," said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.

It is unclear what action would be taken against Dupre if the accusations are deemed credible.

Under the U.S. bishops' "zero tolerance" policy, a priest is removed from all ministry when a diocesan review board determines an allegation against him is credible. In the past two years, six priests in the Springfield Diocese have been removed from ministry after accusations of sexual abuse.

Springfield diocesan officials have determined that they cannot take any action against the bishop.

"Even if we wanted to, we couldn't suspend him," said Springfield diocesan victim outreach director Laura F. Reilly.

Dupre is now listed as "bishop emeritus" on the diocesan Web site. He is listed just below diocesan administrator Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk.

The Archdiocese of Boston will participate in the investigation.

Once it is complete, information will be forwarded to the Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C., who will forward it to the Vatican.

A six-step process to complete the investigation was devised yesterday by Springfield and Boston church officials, including the Springfield diocesan canon and civil lawyers and Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley.

Reilly, who will interview the alleged victims along with her Boston counterpart, said it is still unclear whether she and Boston outreach director Barbara Thorpe will make a recommendation once they gather information.

"It sounds as though we collect the information and just pass it along. However, I'm not absolutely sure of that," said Reilly.

Springfield diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont said the first alleged victim could be interviewed by diocesan officials as early as today.

Reilly said church officials would like to complete the investigation as quickly, efficiently and painlessly as possible.

"We don't want to put the alleged victims through any unnecessary hoops or whistles," Reilly said.

Roderick MacLeish of Boston, lawyer for the two men, said his clients are anxious to cooperate with a church investigation.

Both have been interviewed once and could be interviewed again by Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett, who initiated a criminal investigation within hours of reading about the allegations in The Republican.

Dupre's unexpected, immediate resignation was announced Feb. 11, the day after he was confronted by The Republican with a detailed list of questions about the alleged abuse. The alleged victims made their allegations public only after Dupre resigned.

A copy of the information gathered in the church's investigation will be forwarded to O'Malley in accordance with the U.S. bishops' policy, the Springfield Diocese announced in a statement yesterday.

"The Diocese will also follow its own internal policies, so this same information will be provided to the office of the Hampden County District Attorney, William M. Bennett, Esq., and the District Attorney of any other county implicated and to the Diocesan Review Board for its records," the statement read.

Although Springfield Diocesan officials stated the process for the investigation is based on canon law, other dioceses have taken different steps after allegations were made against their top officials.

In the Albany, N.Y., Diocese, an ex-federal prosecutor was hired last week to conduct an independent investigation regarding allegations of sexual misconduct by its bishop, the Most Rev. Howard Hubbard.

Hubbard has denied two recent allegations of two improper homosexual relationships with men in the 1970s.

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, a lay review board was established to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal Joseph Bernadin in the 1990s.

The men who made the allegations against Dupre said through their lawyer that they didn't want their case investigated by Springfield's Review Board, an all-lay commission whose members required the approval of Dupre or his predecessor, The Most Rev. John Marshall.

Dupre's accusers, 40 and 39 years old, said they were sexually abused by him beginning when they were 12 and 13 years old and Dupre was a parish priest.

The abuse of one client, a refugee who came to this country in 1975, lasted into his high school years, according to MacLeish.

The other client was abused until he was 20, he said. Both said Dupre gave them liquor and used gay pornography before the sexual assaults.

Dupre, 70, resigned five years before the mandatory retirement age of 75. He is being treated at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which treats a variety of mental and addictive disorders, including pedophilia.

Dupre never responded to The Republican's questions and has made no comment since he resigned. He has retained Springfield lawyer Michael O. Jennings, who has refused comment.

The district attorney is looking into a range of possible charges. One could include violating a state law requiring that clergy report suspected child abuse to law enforcement officials. The violation carries a $1,000 fine.

MacLeish said the bishop received an e-mail and two letters about the abuse over the last 15 months. The documents were not found by diocesan personnel after he left, and MacLeish has notified the diocese that it shouldn't destroy any possible evidence.


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