Priest, Bishop at Odds

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Republican
October 29, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - An East Longmeadow pastor swore under oath recently that the bishop threatened to suspend him for protesting the diocese's financial support of a priest who is a convicted child molester.

The Rev. James J. Scahill, pastor of St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow, testified in a deposition that the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, told Scahill that he could be suspended for holding back the portion of weekly collections that is supposed to go to the bishop's office.

Dupre denies he threatened Scahill, according to a statement released by diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont.

"If the Bishop wanted to remove Fr. Scahill, he could pursue some action within the Church, but that is not the Bishop's desire," the statement read.

"There is little doubt that the bishop has been greatly disappointed by Fr. Scahill's actions. The Bishop's hope is that the Church can emerge from this difficult time as a stronger faith community - not a divided one," the statement read.

Scahill has been withholding the money since June 2002 as a protest against the diocese's financial support of the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, whom the diocese is trying to have defrocked and who has been accused by more than 30 people of abusing them as children.

Referring to the last meeting he had with Dupre in September 2002, Scahill said, "And at that meeting once again, as he did in June 2002, . . . he threatened to suspend me."

"And I told him, stop threatening me," the deposition reads.

The deposition was taken last month on the same day Dupre testified. Dupre's deposition was in response to Scahill's allegation that the bishop told members of one of his advisory councils that the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon destroyed records that could have included details about accusations of clergy sexual abuse.

Before and during the deposition, Dupre denied that he said Weldon destroyed such records in the 1970s. Scahill reiterated his allegation regarding Weldon destroying personal and personnel records.

Dupre's deposition, which is expected to be completed next month, was open to the media. Scahill's deposition was held in private and released later by Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who is representing 21 people who have filed claims of clergy sexual abuse against the Springfield diocese.

Scahill said in the deposition that he wasn't afraid of being suspended.

"I know you can suspend me but so convinced am I of the correctness of what I am doing I am risking that suspension if you want to risk suspending me," Scahill said.

Dupre said Scahill was being disobedient, according to the deposition.

"He told me that I had broken my oath of office as a pastor. He told me I had cost this diocese thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars with the timing of my position because the Stewardship Appeal was going on and because the Future of Hope pledge phase had not yet been completed," Scahill said.

The discord between Scahill and Dupre surfaced in September 2002 when all diocesan priests gathered at a convocation in Ogunquit, Maine, for two days.

"I then said, in front of my priests . . . that I am not disobedient. There is no virtue to obedience that requires the surrender of virtue. There is no virtue to obedience that requires one to go myopically blind like the soldiers of Hitler," Scahill said in the deposition.

Scahill characterized the convocation as a two-day media-bashing exercise.

"I said, the media is not the personification of evil. I said I'm not in bed with the media, but the media is accomplishing more on this matter than decades of bishops have," Scahill said.

Scahill called the bishop the Sunday following the convocation to set up a meeting "because what bishop did up in Maine in front of all those priests was assault me, verbally assault me and literally - he literally raped my character."

"I took him on with the disobedience, the disloyalty, the agenda and the money," he said.

"And when it came to the money I said to him that I find it strange that you have never with your priests or publicly bemoaned the millions and millions of dollars that Lavigne and the others have cost the church, but you go after me because of a disagreement and because of a challenge that I've cost the diocese money," the deposition reads. In 1994 the church paid $1.4 million to settle 17 sex abuse complaints made against Lavigne.


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