Springfield Diocese Confronting Crisis
Parishioners Disappointed, Optimistic about Future

Boston [Boston MA]
March 8, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- With the shock of a grand jury probe into sexual abuse allegations against retired Bishop Thomas Dupre still fresh on their minds, Catholics in the Springfield Diocese attended Mass on Sunday disappointed but optimistic about the future of the church.

Dupre, who resigned last month, could become the first U.S. bishop to face abuse-related criminal charges in the sex abuse crisis that has gripped the church for more than two years.

Hampden District Attorney William Bennett announced earlier this week that a grand jury will investigate allegations that Dupre, 70, plied two altar boys with alcohol and molested them while he was a parish priest in the 1970s.

"My faith is my faith. It has nothing to do with the bishop," Velia Zewski, 72, of Northampton, Mass., said after services at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield. "It's bigger than any one person."

Several parishioners on Sunday supported the district attorney's actions, saying the truth must be uncovered.

"There was initial skepticism of (allegations against Dupre), but then after he disappeared you had to believe there was some truth to it," said Longmeadow, Mass., resident Bill Hatch, 57, who sings in the choir at the cathedral.

Since his retirement, Dupre has been at St. Luke Institute, a private Catholic psychiatric hospital in Maryland where many priests have sought treatment after abuse allegations were made against them.

Hatch said he's heard too many stories from around the country of accused clergy escaping justice because statutes of limitations expired. Bennett said the statute of limitations on the abuse itself likely has expired. But because Dupre allegedly tried to conceal the abuse, it still may be possible to charge him, he said.

"Any way that they could charge him with something, I think they really should go after him," Hatch said.

Dupre stepped down Feb. 11, citing health reasons, after nine years as leader of the Springfield Diocese and its 262,000 Catholics. His retirement came a day after the Republican newspaper of Springfield confronted Dupre with the allegations.

Dupre's lawyer, Michael Jennings, has not commented on the allegations.

Dupre's stature should not play a part in the investigation, said Springfield resident Celines Rodrigues, 31, who attended a Spanish-language Mass with her mother, Aida Torres, 68.

"We hope that the people involved in all these sexual allegations are brought to justice," she said. "It doesn't matter who it is, it has to be brought to justice."

It's not the first time church leadership has fallen. In the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned after details emerged that he had protected abusive priests. Many have credited Law's successor, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, with settling abuse lawsuits and fostering a more open dialogue about the crisis.

Hatch said Springfield's new bishop should be someone who is open and honest about the abuse scandal. Monsignor Richard Sniezyk has been named interim administrator.

"O'Malley has been a breath of fresh air for the Boston Archdiocese," said Hatch, who would prefer an outsider being named bishop. "He's not afraid to face up to the issue and get people moving forward."

Mary Gray of East Longmeadow, Mass., attending Mass at St. Michael's Church in that town, has a much simpler qualification. "Just honesty," she said.

Sharon Barba of Hampden, Mass., wants "a bishop who would acknowledge what's been going on and help the victims."


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