|Renaming a Bridge Will Heal a Hole in This Man's Heart
By Bill Nemitz
Portland Press Herald
July 27, 2008
Maybe it was the stutter. Maybe the Rev. John J. Curran saw 12-year-old Bob Dupuis struggling to get the words out and knew that this one would be easy prey.
"He basically stalked me," Dupuis said. "He knew who he could go after."
Dupuis, now 59, returned to his native Maine from his home in Connecticut last week not to confront Curran, who died in 1976. Rather, he came to dispel a myth.
"He was a pedophile and a child abuser," Dupuis said. "That's what he should be remembered for."
It takes guts to do what Bob Dupuis did last Monday evening. While some in the audience still shook their heads in disbelief, he stood before the Augusta City Council to say that Curran, a local icon if ever there was one, was not the man people thought he was.
And much to its credit, the City Council listened. Assuming the Maine Legislature goes along with the council's unanimous recommendation (and God help lawmakers if they don't), Curran's name will be removed from a bridge across the Kennebec River in Augusta.
Big deal? Yes, it is -- not just for Dupuis, but for the countless victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests who have yet to confront their own demons.
Dupuis crossed paths with Curran back in 1961 at St. Joseph's Parish in Old Town. His stuttering prevented him from being an altar boy -- the Latin dialogue with the priest left him tongue-tied.
But when Curran enlisted him to do odd jobs around the parish, Dupuis jumped at the chance to earn a little pocket money.
"And whenever he met with me," Dupuis recalled, "it was always alone."
First came the hugs. Then the fondling. By Christmas of that year, Dupuis had grown so disgusted by the priest that he stopped coming around the church.
"It was pretty ugly," Dupuis said. "But the reality was you didn't talk about things like that. I felt that no one would listen to me."
For more than four decades, Dupuis kept the memories to himself. He graduated from Maine Maritime Academy, married and became a nuclear engineer for General Dynamics in Groton, Conn.
But he also drank too much. And when he finally decided a few years ago to do something about the alcohol, Dupuis suddenly found himself in group therapy talking about what happened with Father Curran all those years ago.
Last year, at the urging of his fellow group members, he contacted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine and told his story in detail to Deacon John Brennan, who investigates claims of abuse for the diocese.
He returned to St. Joseph's with Brennan and showed him the "office," no bigger than a closet, where the abuse occurred. Dupuis' recall of what happened, when it happened and where it happened would eventually persuade Bishop Richard Malone that Curran was not the man everyone thought he was.
But Curran was long dead. What's more, Dupuis showed no interest in suing the diocese. So after the church put out a news release last fall saying a charge of abuse against him had been substantiated, what more could be done?
Late last summer, during an Internet search on Curran, Dupuis came across the fact that the bridge in Augusta had been named after him in 1974, commemorating his decade as a priest at St. Augustine's Parish in Augusta from 1962-72.
Dupuis had already asked the diocese to remove all memorials to Curran in churches where he had served, but this was different. This was an entire city singing the deceased priest's praises.
Dupuis did nothing for several months, but the image of the plaque on the bridge -- he'd turned off the interstate in Augusta just to see it -- haunted him.
Then last May, he got another jolt. On a trip back to St. Joseph's in Old Town to plan an aunt's funeral, Dupuis found himself once again inside the church he'd attended as a child. Looking up at a wall, he noticed a set of portraits of priests who had passed through the parish over the years. Curran, lo and behold, was among them.
Dupuis got up on a chair and took the Curran picture down.
"I was quite upset," he said.
Two women in the church at the time went and told the priest, who confronted Dupuis and asked what he was doing.
"I told him this man abused me and was a pedophile," Dupuis said.
The priest took the picture from Dupuis. Dupuis suggested he call the diocese and ask about Curran. Two hours later, the priest approached Dupuis and gave him the picture of Curran -- it was his to dispose of as he saw fit.
Dupuis decided to keep it, at least for now. At the same time, he resolved to do something about that bridge.
Pressure by advocates for church-abuse victims to remove Curran's name from the bridge had been building since the diocese's announcement last fall. Also targeted were two scholarships bearing Curran's name -- one offered by the University of Maine at Augusta, the other by the Augusta-based Calumet Educational and Literary Foundation.
Last month, both institutions removed Curran's name from their scholarships (although the president of the Calumet foundation insisted it had nothing to do with the allegations that Curran had sexually abused children).
Then on July 2, Bishop Malone wrote a letter to the Augusta City Council endorsing the removal of Curran's name from the bridge.
"Although Father Curran did much to improve the condition and perception of the Franco-American community in Augusta, it is also evident that he inflicted much harm upon some of the most vulnerable among us," Malone wrote. "To continue to memorialize his name is inconsistent with those actions."
Monday evening, Dupuis arrived at the City Council meeting with the portrait of Curran under his arm.
"As a result of his abuse, I lived a life of distrust and insecurity," he told the council. "He took from me my spirit, my trust in humanity and he broke my heart."
Holding up the portrait, he added, "If you look into his eyes, you can see and almost feel his deceit."
Others in the council chamber then rose and implored the council to think twice before taking the final blow to Curran's crumbling reputation. One woman said her brothers were altar servers at St. Augustine's "and not once did they ever witness or were they ever approached by Father John J. Curran."
Dupuis and his wife, who accompanied him to Augusta, spoke with the woman after the meeting.
"She said she felt sorry for me and hoped the best for me," Dupuis said. But, he added, "she never said she believed me."
No matter. The council unanimously passed the resolution asking the Legislature to rename the bridge. And before doing so, it added two clauses.
One asserts that "the safety of our children is one of the most important tasks of our society." The other stated that the council "acknowledges the harms, injuries, trauma and anguish experienced by those who were sexually abused as children."
Back home in East Lyme, Conn., Dupuis said he watched as the church scandal erupted eight years ago but remained silent. Had it not been for his therapy group, he said, his story would still be untold.
"I needed to do this as part of my recovery," he said. "It's all part of my healing."
However painful it's been for him and however public his pain, he's glad he found the strength to stand up, all these years later, and speak the truth. People listened, after all.
And not once did he stutter.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org
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