Church Abuse Scandal Reaches Top of Diocese

Republican [Springfield MA]
March 7, 2004

If he is indicted by a Hampden County grand jury, Thomas L. Dupre will become the first American bishop to face criminal charges for sexual abuse.

District Attorney William M. Bennett said Thursday that he will present a grand jury with credible allegations that Dupre sexually abused two boys when he was a parish priest.

We hope other victims will step forward and other prosecutors will pursue charges if their allegations prove credible in other cases.

There can no true reform within the church until the church and its leaders have been held accountable.

The Republican has not identified the two individuals who say Dupre sexually abused them, nor will our readers ever know the depth of the damage that was done to them. We have told their stories, sometimes in disturbing detail, but we cannot accurately describe how it must have felt to be betrayed by a priest. Young, vulnerable and trusting, they turned to their priest for friendship and spiritual guidance. It is a story that was repeated a staggering number of times, against more than 10,000 children between 1950 and 2002, according to a lay body created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. That behavior is clearly unlawful, yet 95 percent of the accused priests have never been charged with a crime.

Federal authorities have offered to assist the local district attorney's office. Although the deadline for child rape charges has expired, there are other possible charges that would require the authority of the federal government to prosecute. Whatever the jurisdiction, we hope prosecutors will be more aggressive than they have been in the past.

The church has undermined its own moral authority and cast a shadow on the work of those priests who have never abused their positions of trust.

Prosecutors rarely acknowledge the existence of grand juries. Bennett has made an exception in this case because of its enormous public interest.

The weeks and months ahead will be difficult for the accusers. If the allegations are true, whatever therapeutic value they received from finally acknowledging that their priest was a predator and not a trusting friend, may be difficult to sustain with the re-telling - and perhaps, painful reliving - of their stories.

Let's hope they are not betrayed again.


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