Vatican May Not Get to Dupre Case Soon

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
March 4, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - A backlog of 700 clergy sexual abuse cases could possibly prevent the Vatican from acting immediately on the allegations of sexual abuse against recently resigned Bishop Thomas L. Dupre.

The Vatican, which will decide any possible action against Dupre, has been inundated with appeals by priests who said they are innocent of abuse allegations that caused them to be punished by their bishops.

The Vatican can handle only 70 of these cases a year, according to Vatican Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose office handles such matters.

But no one is sure Ratzinger's office will handle Dupre's case.

The uniqueness of the case makes it virtually impossible to know what the Vatican will do, according to the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a world-renowned canon lawyer.

"There have been allegations of abuse against other bishops, but there has never been an investigation by the Vatican into the allegations - at least not that I know of. Also, there have never been any civil trials or criminal trials involving allegations of abuse against a bishop," said Doyle.

It will be the pope's decision on who within the Vatican will complete the investigation and decide if action should be taken against Dupre, the former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Last week Boston and Springfield church officials interviewed both men who say they were sexually abused by Dupre more than 25 years ago when they were minors and Dupre was a parish priest.

The notes from those interviews were sent Tuesday by the Springfield diocese to the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C. The papal nuncio is the pope's representative in the United States. He is expected to forward the notes to the Vatican.

It is not known whether Dupre has been interviewed for the church investigation. Diocesan officials believe it was not their responsibility to handle that aspect of the probe, they said.

The public nature in which the allegations were made adds to the uniqueness of the case, Doyle said.

Dupre resigned abruptly Feb. 11 after The Republican confronted him with questions about alleged sexual abuse. The men leveling the accusations are now 39 and 40. One was a teen and the other a preteen when the alleged abuse began.

When Dupre's sudden early retirement was announced, diocesan officials cited his health as the reason.

"This seems like such a blatant situation. It would be hard for the Vatican to sandpaper away these charges," Doyle said.

He said it's possible the Vatican will handle it all in secrecy.

"We see this as a public matter, but the Vatican may not see it that way," Doyle said.

Both alleged victims have fully cooperated with church officials and the Hampden County district attorney's office as they have conducted their respective investigations.

Despite the backlog in Vatican cases, the Dupre case could be fast-tracked. No one is certain that would happen, according to local and national church officials.

"I don't want to speculate, but usually nothing is fast in the Vatican," Doyle said.

Meanwhile, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett plans to release information today regarding the investigation his office launched the day after the allegations were made public last month.

"I will provide an update as to what we have done, what we are doing, and what we intend to do in the future," Bennett said.

He refused to address questions about possible criminal charges.

Bennett dismissed a statement by the Springfield affiliate of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which urged him to seize possible evidence in the investigation.

"I have had no contact with them. They would have no idea what we have or have not done. ... We will continue to proceed in the manner that I see is most appropriate," Bennett said.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests cited prior allegations of possible destruction of the church records by the diocese and the fact that it has been three weeks since Dupre left Springfield as reasons for its concern. Dupre is a patient at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., an institution that treats priests with a range of mental and addictive disorders.

The organization urged Bennett to seize pertinent diocesan material, including financial records.

On Monday, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests announced it had asked Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly to open a criminal investigation of the Springfield Diocese. Reilly's office acknowledged receipt of the group's letter and said it has been in contact with Bennett's office.


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