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  Suit: Dupre Said Files Destroyed

By Bill Zajac wzajac@repub.com
The Republican
August 3, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - The Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre said personnel records of priests were destroyed upon the retirement of former Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, according to a clergy sexual abuse suit filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

Dupre was chancellor when he discussed the files in 1977 or 1978 at a deanery meeting of diocesan priests at St. Bartholomew's rectory in Bondsville, according to the suit filed last week in Hampden Superior Court by John Doe, a pseudonym used to protect the plaintiff's identity.

Dupre resigned as bishop of the Springfield Diocese in February amid allegations that he abused two minors more than 20 years ago.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett's office is interested in information contained in the suit, according to Assistant District Attorney James C. Orenstein. "This is someone we will want to talk with," Orenstein said.

A grand jury has been considering charges against Dupre since March when Bennett determined there was "just cause." Possible charges range from sexual abuse to failure to report abuse to the proper authorities.

Diocesan lawyers retrieved a copy of the suit in court yesterday and presented it to Bennett's office, according to Mark E. Dupont, spokesman for the diocese.

The suit names the diocese and several individual priests as conspiring to conceal criminal acts of sexual abuse by two priests against Doe.

The perpetrators, according to the suit, were the Revs. J. Roy Jenness and Thomas J. O'Connor, neither whom is listed as a defendant because both are dead.

The Revs. Francis P. Lavelle, Edward M. Kennedy, Ronald E. Wamsher and Dupre are listed as defendants.

"We believe these priests are part of a big cover-up in the diocese. They were friends of the perpetrators and would have known what was occurring," said Springfield lawyer Ryan E. Alekman, who, along with Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso, represents Doe.

The Most Rev. Joseph F. Maguire, who replaced Weldon as bishop in 1977, is also listed as a defendant.

The diocese had no comment regarding the allegations yesterday.

Allegations of sexual abuse previously have been made against Jenness, O'Connor, Lavelle, Kennedy, Wamsher and Dupre in lawsuits.

Lavelle and Kennedy have been removed from ministry by the diocese after credible allegations of sexual abuse were determined against each.

Wamsher is on administrative leave while sexual abuse allegations against him are investigated by the diocese.

Dupre had been receiving treatment at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., at least into the summer. It is not known if he remains there. He has had no official contact with the diocese since his departure.

Between eight and 10 priests attended the deanery meeting and pressed Dupre about the matter of the late Weldon's files, John Doe said in an interview with The Republican last week.

Doe worked at the rectory and was privy to what was said as he served refreshments, he said. He was 17 at the time.

"Some things stick out in your mind your whole life. This is one of those things," Doe said.

"I could tell this was really big. It was obvious the other priests were relieved," said Doe.

Doe, a 43-year-old Palmer resident, said Weldon was likened to J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI director who kept secret files on individuals.

Doe said his characterization of Weldon was based upon a close relationship with Jenness and familiarity with other priests while he worked in the rectory for more than two years.

"The whole tenor of the meeting changed after Dupre made the statement. I was relieved for them, figuring this was an evil bishop who had all this info on these good guys," Doe said.

Doe said he wasn't surprised when the Rev. James J. Scahill said last year that Dupre had made a similar statement at a Presbyteral Council meeting in 2002.

"I knew Scahill was telling the truth," Doe said.

At the time Scahill said Dupre made the announcement shortly after the national clergy sex abuse crisis began unfolding in early 2002. "He (Dupre) announced that fortunately for the church of Springfield, upon his (Weldon's) retirement, he destroyed many personal and personnel files," said Scahill. "He said it with glee in his voice and glee in his eye, almost gloating about it."

Dupre denied making the statement and swore to it under oath in a deposition shortly afterward. Scahill also stuck to his allegation in a sworn statement.

The Rev. Sylvio E. Levesque, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Three Rivers, who attended the deanery meeting, according to Doe, said he doesn't recall a meeting in which destroyed files were discussed.

"Maybe I wasn't at that meeting," said Levesque, adding he doesn't remember Dupre attending any deanery meetings. A deanery is a geographic region within the diocese.

"I'm 84, so maybe my memory isn't what it used to be," said Levesque.

Scahill expressed gratitude yesterday that Doe stepped forward with the information.

"I believe him to be true. I heard the same boastful message," Scahill said. "Most intelligent and sensible people have moved a long way in their understanding of this serious crisis."

 
 

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