Bishop Quits after Abuse Query

By Bill Zajac
[Springfield MA] Republican
February 12, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - A day after The Republican confronted the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre with accusations that he sexually assaulted two boys about three decades ago, he abruptly resigned yesterday as bishop of the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese, citing health reasons.

The bishop's departure at age 70 left unanswered the series of questions posed to him about the accusations, which the newspaper has been investigating for months. The accusations were first brought to the bishop in a letter last year by the mother of one of the two alleged victims, one of whom was about 13 and the other a pre-teen when the alleged abuse began.

The woman, a longtime diocesan school worker, said her letter arrived at the bishop's residence weeks before he told The Republican last year he might retire earlier than the mandatory retirement age of 75 because of heart and other health problems.

The woman tried unsuccessfully for months to persuade her now adult son to publicly press charges. Her name is not being used in accordance with the newspaper's policy of protecting alleged sexual abuse victims.

Roderick MacLeish, a Boston lawyer who has handled hundreds of abuse claims in the Boston Archdiocese, said he has been retained by the woman's son strictly to try to protect his anonymity. MacLeish said he is representing the other alleged victim, who is also trying to protect his anonymity as he explores legal options.

"My client wants his privacy protected and his family's privacy protected. I hope all, including the diocese, will respect that," said MacLeish, adding that he hasn't fully discussed legal options with his client.

"This is a serious situation," MacLeish said.

The allegations were presented to the bishop amid a recent flurry of public speaking engagements in which Dupre urged Catholics to support a constitutional amendment that bans gay marriages.

Dupre's resignation follows two years of diocesan problems related to clergy sexual abuse in the diocese and the Catholic Church.

The diocese issued a statement yesterday stating that Dupre submitted his resignation in November and that his request was granted by the Vatican on Tuesday.

Dupre allegedly sexually abused two minors beginning in the 1970s, according to the mother of one of the victims. After failed attempts to speak to Dupre about the allegations, the newspaper submitted a detailed list of questions via email to diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont Tuesday.

Within hours, Dupre checked into an undisclosed medical facility outside the diocese for undisclosed treatment. His ailments are not considered life threatening, according to diocesan officials.

In an interview several months ago, the mother, who has worked in a Catholic school in the Springfield Diocese for more than 20 years, said neither her son nor the other victim wanted to file suit against the bishop. The two victims were best friends in high school.

The Rev. James J. Scahill, who for the past two years has publicly criticized Dupre's handling of clergy sexual abuse issues, said he has counseled the woman and that he has tried to help her son. Scahill has criticized Dupre for the diocese's financial support of convicted child molester Richard R. Lavigne, a defrocked priest who was the only suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of Springfield altar boy Daniel Croteau.

Scahill refused to identify the mother or her son and added that they are among the many victims and victims' family members he has helped in the past two years.

Scahill said he tried to follow the newly created U.S. bishops' policy for the protection of children and report the abuse in November to Catholic Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, the head of the state's conference of bishops.

O'Malley never returned Scahill's call, in which Scahill said he expressed an urgency with regard to the health of the Springfield Church.

Scahill said Dupre's resignation raises new questions about all the decisions Dupre made regarding clergy sexual abuse.

"The close of his episcopacy should not lead to the closure of an investigation of some very unhealthy decisions he has made regarding these issues. ... It would more fully explain why he has been all too cozy with abusers and has not shown the heart of Christ to victims," said Scahill.

Most recently, Scahill criticized the diocese for helping to establish a fund that could financially help sexually abusive priests who have been removed from ministry.

Diocesan spokesman Dupont said Dupre left the diocese without providing a response for the paper to any of the questions.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, who will run the diocese on a day-to-day basis until an acting administrator is chosen from within the diocese, returned home early from a Florida vacation to begin overseeing diocesan operations.

He said Dupre's resignation became effective at 10 a.m. yesterday and that he will be entitled in retirement to a pension, health benefits, an automobile and housing.

Sniezyk said Dupre never revealed anything about the allegations against him when he talked with him on Tuesday night.

"This is a very serious matter. If these allegations are true, then we want to know," said Sniezyk.

He said they could not be investigated until a victim or family member of a victim came forward to the diocesan Review Board, which investigates misconduct by diocesan personnel.

Sniezyk didn't know if Dupre shared the allegations of abuse with diocesan lawyers. John Egan, the diocese's chief legal counsel, had left for the day when called for comment. He was not at home and didn't return a message left for him there.

At a press conference before the allegations were made public yesterday, Sniezyk said Dupre's sense of fairness was among his most important contributions to the diocese.

"I think it is his personal sense of fairness; he was always trying to be fair to everyone," Sniezyk said.

Dupre by his own admission was an extremely introverted person who struggled at the need to be more open with people while serving as bishop.

The Rev. George A. Farland, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield and a co-vicar of clergy, expressed shock and confusion when told about the allegations.

He said Dupre is a sensitive man, a great listener and "very pastoral."

"He is as honest as you can get. That has been my experience with him," Farland said.

He praised Dupre for the Future of Hope Capital Campaign that exceeded by at least $4 million its goal of $30 million. The fund supports a variety of diocesan and parish projects.

He said the church is much bigger than the sex abuse scandal and that it will survive despite it.

The mother of one of the victims learned of the abuse in December 2002 when The Republican, acting on an anonymous tip, asked the family about the allegations. In October, she was interviewed by The Republican for several hours and described her son's and the family's relationship with Dupre.

When the mother learned about the newspaper's inquiry, she confronted the son about the possibility he was sexually abused by Dupre, a longtime family friend.

The son acknowledged the sexual abuse to the mother, she said.

"I never, never suspected," said the woman, who had become friends with Dupre because Dupre and her son were such close friends.

Dupre had been a dinner guest in the family's home many times, the woman said. She and her son attended Dupre's installation as bishop in 1995.

Several months after learning of the alleged abuse, the mother wrote a letter to the bishop, expressing her anger about his deceiving her son and the rest of her family.

She said several weeks after sending the letter, the bishop told The Republican he expected to resign a few years earlier than the bishop's retirement age of 75. He cited heart problems. The bishop had not missed any extended time from work due to health problems

The mother said her son met Dupre through his friend, who belonged to the St. Louis de France Parish in West Springfield where Dupre was assigned at the time. Her son was a freshman in high school at the time and she believes the sexual relationship lasted into her son's college years.

She said Dupre introduced her son to the arts, museums and opera. Dupre took the boys on camping trips and swimming at various lakes in the region, she said.

The woman said she encouraged her son to come forward and file a suit. Several weeks ago she said her son met with Dupre in a Sturbridge restaurant where the son expressed his anger to Dupre about the abuse. Dupre apologized to him, she said.

The woman said Dupre had told the boys that he had been tested for AIDS.

"He showed them pictures of men dying with AIDS to scare them so they wouldn't have sex with whoever - he would say, 'This is what could happen to you; therefore you come to me,'" the mother said.

The woman said she decided to meet with The Republican because she believed Scahill when he criticized Dupre's handling of clergy sexual abuse and was impressed by Scahill's strong voice in support of victims.

The woman said she wrote a second letter to Dupre in the fall after watching him on television saying he wanted to facilitate a fund to help financially support sexually abusive priests.

"I started yelling at the television and swearing. I couldn't believe what I was hearing," she said.

When Dupre announced last month that Lavigne was defrocked, he commended Lavigne to the prayers of the diocese but said the victims of abuse were his first concern.

"I want to reiterate, as I have in the past, that my foremost thoughts and prayers go out to all victims of abuse by priests and diocesan workers. I am truly sorry for the pain this has brought to your lives and that of your families," he said.

Several plaintiffs in clergy sexual abuse suits expressed their displeasure with Dupre's handling of their cases.

"Dupre is the person responsible for putting us through this long, tortuous legal exercise," said Stephen J. Block, 43, of Springfield, who has sued the diocese and accused Lavigne of abusing him.

Although more than 30 clergy sexual abuse suits are pending against the diocese, negotiations to settle the suits are ongoing.

"I wonder if things will change with him gone," said Block.

John J. Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer representing more than 20 clergy sexual abuse suit plaintiffs, said, "We are hoping that the new leadership will be more enlightened and that they don't rely on technical defenses to traumatize the survivors.

"I hope whoever is the new leader, he will follow the path of Archbishop O'Malley and try to settle these cases justly and swiftly," Stobierski said.

Stobierski called the allegations about Dupre "bigger than Boston."

"If he was a child molester, now we understand why this diocese was out of step with the rest of New England and the country in responding to victims," Stobierski said.

The diocese received high marks in a national audit of how it was implementing the U.S. bishops policy on how to protect children from abuse. The diocese received a citation for hiring a clergy monitor to oversee priests removed from ministry for sexual abuse.

But Dupre has been criticized by alleged victims as playing legal hardball with them and trying to escape suits through legal technicalities, such as claiming the church should not be held accountable for certain priest sex abuse cases because of charitable immunity laws.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said it is not unusual for many victims to not make accusations public.

"Is it a tad easier for victims to come forward in the wake of newspaper stories and television exposes on abuse? Probably for some. Is it ever easier for all? Absolutely not," Clohessy said.

"Faced with possibly coming forward, victims feel confusion, embarrassment and shame," said Clohessy.

At a press briefing yesterday afternoon, Sniezyk said the clergy sexual abuse scandal had taken its toll on Dupre's health. He made no references to The Republican's inquiry into sexual abuse by Dupre.

He answered questions about the allegations several hours after the press conference.

In the past two years, about 50 complaints of misconduct have been made against 30 or so diocesan workers, mostly priests, in the Springfield diocese.

Twenty-five of the accused people are priests, 10 of whom are deceased, according to James L. Bell, former chairman of the nine-member layperson Review Board that handles misconduct accusations.

At least six U.S. bishops have resigned in the past two years because of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Two of them resigned after they were accused of abusing minors.

Last week, Albany, N.Y., Bishop Howard Hubbard was accused by a former Albany man of having a sexual relationship with his brother that drove him to suicide in 1978 at the age of 25.

The Springfield Diocese is comprised of about 120 parishes and 275,000 Catholics.


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