Ex-Bishop Invokes 5th Amendment

By Bill Zajac
The Republican
July 9, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Ever since he was confronted with allegations that he sexually abused two boys decades ago, former Roman Catholic bishop Thomas L. Dupre has remained silent.

In his recent response to a civil suit, Dupre's stance didn't change. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment, his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.

But Dupre's lawyer, as well as a local law professor, warn against concluding that invoking the Fifth Amendment is an admission of guilt.

"A Supreme Court case clearly states that a person's right to remain silent is as important to and meant equally for the innocent," said Dupre's lawyer Michael O. Jennings of Springfield.

Dupre invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to all claims of sexual abuse and circumstances surrounding the abuse as stated in the suit.

The men whose names appear on the suit, but who have requested their names not be used by the media, allege Dupre abused them as minors when he was serving as a parish priest.

Dupre served as bishop in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield from 1995 until Feb. 11 of this year when he resigned at age 70 after being confronted by The Republican with allegations of sexual abuse. The men had not yet decided to come forward when the newspaper made the allegations public.

One alleged victim, then a refugee, said he was abused by Dupre beginning shortly after his arrival in this country in 1975 at age 12, according to the suit.

The alleged abuse of the other boy began several years later when he was in high school and was introduced to Dupre by the other alleged victim.

Jennings said his client's response to the suit in no way is an admission of guilt.

"He could have denied the facts; he could have admitted the facts or he could have remained silent. He has chosen to remain silent," Jennings said.

It is unusual to invoke the Fifth Amendment in a civil suit, but it was done because of the ongoing criminal investigation by Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett's office and the accompanying grand jury probe into the allegations against Dupre, according to Jennings.

"It can only be raised in the context of a criminal setting," said Jennings.

Not one of the defendants in any of the 21 clergy sexual abuse suits filed by Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski invoked the Fifth Amendment.

"They either denied the allegations or couldn't remember," Stobierski said.

Arthur D. Wolf, a law professor at Western New England Law School, said lay people often read too much into invoking the Fifth Amendment.

"Sometimes when someone invokes the Fifth Amendment, people think it looks bad and assume guilt, but it may not be the case at all," Wolf said. "It may be a situation where someone may have acted immorally but not illegally. They may be embarrassed about having it revealed."

During the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, many innocent people invoked the Fifth Amendment because they felt the government had no right to force them into disclosing private associations, Wolf said.

There are greater consequences to invoking the Fifth Amendment in civil rather than criminal matters, according to Wolf.

If a defendant invokes the Fifth Amendment in criminal pre-trial proceedings, it cannot be revealed during a jury trial or summary judgment.

However, it can be revealed in civil trials, Wolf said.

Also, because it is rare that clergy sexual abuse suits are not settled out of court, invoking the Fifth Amendment can strengthen a plaintiff's bargaining leverage in settlement talks, Wolf said.

Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr. of Greenberg Taurig, who represents both Dupre accusers, didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.


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