N.H. Cannot Prosecute Mass. Bishop on Sex Charges
By Adam Gorlick
The Associated Press, carried in Foster's Daily Democrat [Springfield MA]
November 10, 2004
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — New Hampshire authorities said Wednesday they cannot prosecute Bishop Thomas Dupre on sexual abuse charges dating back to the 1970s because it wasn’t a crime at the time to have sex with teenagers who were at least 16.
"The conduct the victims say happened in New Hampshire would not have been a crime in New Hampshire," Will Delker, New Hampshire’s senior assistant attorney general, told The Associated Press.
Federal authorities as well as law enforcement in New Hampshire, New York and Canada have been reviewing the allegations against the former leader of the Springfield Diocese after a grand jury indicted him on child rape charges.
Although Dupre was the first American bishop to face such charges, Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett declined to prosecute the case saying the statute of limitations had expired.
Bennett handed the grand jury findings to other law enforcement authorities in jurisdictions where the alleged abuse against two teen boys occurred.
Delker said that since the accusations against Dupre involved having oral sex with two boys who were between 16 and 17, the act could not have been a crime. At the time, it was not illegal to have sex with someone 16 or older, he said.
New Hampshire did not prohibit adults from having sex with people younger than 18 until 1986, Delker said.
"Today it is a crime to engage in that kind of conduct with someone under the age of 18 if you’re in a position of authority over the minor," Delker said. "Back then, it was not a crime if the victim was over the age of 16.
"The statutes have since changed, but we can’t change that retroactively," he said.
Dupre allegedly gave the boys wine and cognac before initiating sex. One of the alleged victims has said the abuse began when he was 12 and lasted until he began dating a girl in high school. The other said he was abused until he was about 20.
Both men have said they agreed to remain silent about what happened, and said they kept in touch with Dupre after he was appointed bishop in 1995.
New York and federal authorities said they are still reviewing the case, but expressed concern that they may be hamstrung by similar statute of limitation laws that prevented Bennett from prosecuting.
Just as state authorities in Massachusetts were unable to pursue the case because of statute of limitations, "That is an issue that the U.S. Attorney’s office may also have to deal with," said Kevin O’Regan, the chief prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Springfield.
Bennett, who did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment, has said that Canada does not have a statute of limitations.
Canadian authorities said they are still reviewing the matter.
"I continue to be relieved to hear that those who would seek to prosecute the bishop are learning that either no crimes were committed or that so much time has passed that the law says it’s unfair to now make someone defend themselves," said Michael Jennings, Dupre’s lawyer.
Dupre, 70, cited health reasons when he resigned in February after nine years as head of the Springfield Diocese. But his departure came one day after The Republican newspaper of Springfield confronted him with allegations he abused the boys while he was a parish priest during the 1970s.
After he stepped down, Dupre went to St. Luke Institute, a private psychiatric hospital in Maryland where the Boston Archdiocese sent many priests for treatment after sexual abuse allegations were made against them. The institute treats priests with emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems.
Dupre’s current whereabouts were not immediately known, and Jennings would not say where the bishop is.
Bishop Timothy McDonnell replaced Dupre in April. Since his installation, the diocese — which includes more than 260,000 Roman Catholics in western Massachusetts — has reached a $7 million settlement with 46 people who say they were abused by priests
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