Mystery Surrounds Case of Ex-Bishop

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
February 6, 2005

Nearly a year after the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre resigned as bishop, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield has struggled through chaos, challenges and controversy.

While the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell has shepherded the diocese through many changes since being installed as bishop last April 1, some questions remain unanswered.

Dupre's whereabouts remain a mystery as do the results of a Vatican investigation into allegations that he abused two minors when he was a parish priest.

Dupre's resignation at 70 was announced Feb. 11 - a day after he was confronted by The Republican with allegations that he sexually abused two boys decades earlier when he was a parish priest.

Dupre became the first U.S. bishop indicted on sexual abuse charges when a Hampden County grand jury handed down two indictments of rape against him in September.

Almost immediately after the indictments became official, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett announced the charges could not be pursued because of the statute of limitations.

Although Bennett passed along grand jury findings to the U.S. attorney's office, and New York, New Hampshire and Canadian law enforcement officials because of alleged sexual assaults in those jurisdictions, none has demonstrated any interest in pursuing criminal charges.

Dupre's two alleged victims recently refiled a Superior Court suit in federal court in order to take advantage of different discovery rules, or those governing evidence.

Neither Dupre's lawyer Michael O. Jennings nor diocesan officials are saying where Dupre currently lives.

By the time the diocese announced Dupre's resignation, he had already checked into St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., a facility that treats priests for a variety of behavior abnormalities, including pedophilia.

It is unclear how long Dupre remained there, but it is believed to be six months or so.

There are no indications he has moved back to this region. There were no signs recently that anyone is living at the home he owns in Ware at Beaver Lake.

When asked where the diocese is sending his retirement checks, diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont refused to say. He said the address is not evidence where Dupre may be living today.

Lawyer David G. Thomas of Greenberg Traurig, the Boston law firm representing Dupre's two alleged victims, is also looking for Dupre to serve him legal notice of the lawsuit he re-filed Monday against Dupre in U.S. District Court.

Thomas said a post office box in East Longmeadow under his name was active as recently as five months ago. However, Thomas said it is possible the post office box carries his name because it was opened by a parish or the diocese when Dupre was the sitting bishop. Most church properties list the bishop as owner on deeds.

The lawsuit replaces the original lawsuit that was filed last winter in Hampden Superior Court.

"Getting discovery from priests and dioceses is difficult. There are more formal discovery procedures in federal court that I think can help us," Thomas said.

Within weeks of Dupre's resignation, the Vatican initiated an investigation which included interviews with the two men who were allegedly raped by Dupre as minors. The diocese, which had investigated dozens of allegations of clergy sexual abuse in the past several years, is not allowed to investigate a bishop, diocesan officials said.

But more than 10 calls by The Republican seeking comment from the office of the Papal Nuncio, the pope's representative in the United States, have failed to get a response regarding the status of the investigation. Diocesan officials have received no indication they will be informed about the results.

It has left some lay people dissatisfied with the church.

"The thing that bothers me is that we may never learn where the church stands regarding Dupre," said Springfield retiree and lifelong Catholic James Donahue.

"We have bishops saying things like 'Politicians who support abortion should not receive Communion,' but our diocese never hears what happens to the investigation of a bishop?" Donahue said.

The Voice of the Faithful, the lay organization dedicated to encouraging more lay involvement in church governance, believes a bishop like Dupre who is facing allegations should be held to the same standard as all other priests and deacons.

Partially because of the Dupre situation, the organization recommended to U.S. bishops earlier this month that the Charter for the Protection of Children be amended so that bishops' conduct falls under the scope of the policy.

"Bishops are priests, too. The Vatican is responsive when they name a bishop. We all learn about it and have to accept it without input. Why can't it be responsive and report their findings. Is he being defrocked?" said Kristine J. Ward, chairwoman of the Voice of the Faithful's task force that made recommendations about the policy to U.S. bishops.

There are no public indications that a process to defrock Dupre has been initiated.

Dupre's accusers are among the 31 people who currently have outstanding claims of clergy sexual abuse filed with the diocese, which has expressed a desire to settle the claims once diocesan insurance carriers agree to their role in funding the settlements.

Local Catholics like James M. Murphy of Chicopee view the Dupre situation as a further decay of credibility by an institution that has shown more interest in protecting sexually predatory priests and the church's reputation than in protecting innocent children.

"I don't have a great deal of respect for the people who are running the church," said Murphy.

Meanwhile, when Dupre's successor McDonnell was installed, the then-66-year-old prelate entered a job filled with challenges. McDonnell was expected to reach out to victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families; comfort parishioners; reassure good, but disheartened priests; discipline bad ones; negotiate with lawyers and prosecutors; and raise money.

All of this was to be done while a charismatic, maverick priest from East Longmeadow, the Rev. James J. Scahill, was putting public pressure on the new prelate to cut off financial support of defrocked priest and convicted child molester Richard R. Lavigne.

McDonnell's own agenda was to work as "a healer."

James H. Tourtelotte, a Springfield lawyer and Catholic, says McDonnell has done an admirable job in difficult circumstances.

"I'm impressed that he - a man who has had his share of health issues and considering his age and experience - could step in and have done as well as he has. I don't think anyone else could have done as well," said Tourtelotte of McDonnell, who arrived in Springfield after serving only several years as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York.

McDonnell decided in May, less than two months after his installation as bishop, that the diocese was immediately ending Lavigne's $1,030 monthly stipend and health and dental benefits.

McDonnell and Scahill have had a tumultuous relationship, with both publicly praising and criticizing each other at different times.

Besides the Dupre allegations, McDonnell has faced other sexual abuse challenges starting from his first week on the job when he accepted the resignation of Catholic Communications Corp. president Michael A. Graziano amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

McDonnell has since placed several priests and a deacon on administrative leave pending investigations of abuse and removed another priest from ministry after allegations of sexual abuse were determined to be credible.

He settled 46 claims of clergy sexual abuse for $7.8 million this summer and faces the additional 31 claims.

McDonnell has earned recent praise from one of the diocese's most vocal critics on sexual abuse issues, Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who represents 56 people with current or past claims of clergy sexual abuse.

Stobierski said McDonnell has addressed abuse victims' claims in a pastoral manner - a stark contrast to Dupre's litigious, confrontational approach.

Many clergy abuse victims who settled their suits with the diocese said Dupre's approach was "a process of re-victimization."

Stobierski said McDonnell has continued to make changes in the diocese that began under Dupre and that make it easier for victims to bring allegations to the diocese.

"With respect to survivors, the diocese is much more flexible," Stobierski said.

For instance, three years ago the diocese refused to listen to allegations of clergy sexual abuse from accusers who were pursuing or planned to pursue litigation against the diocese.

That policy no longer is in place. Accusers, who once had to face the nine-person Review Board alone, don't even have to face the Review Board in person anymore. Their allegations can be presented to the Review Board by the diocese's victim advocate Laura F. Reilly if facing the board would be too traumatic.

"It is scary enough to come forward with some of the most personal events of one's life, but to do so with the institution that put the person in the predicament makes it unbearable for some people. The diocese has become much more sensitive to that," Stobierski said.

Stobierski would like changes to continue.

"The Review Board (which investigates allegations) needs to make periodic public reports regarding how many complaints have been received, when the abuse took place and the number of priests accused," Stobierski said.

Meanwhile, although Dupre's status is that of a bishop in good standing, his name carries an ignominious quality in the diocese.

He is listed as "Bishop Emeritus" in the diocesan directory and on the diocesan Web site. However, many priests in the diocese refuse to state his name when they pray for McDonnell and the other bishop emeritus, the Most Rev. Joseph F. Maguire, at all Masses.

Dupre currently qualifies for special retirement privileges as a bishop. They include a monthly stipend of at least $1,500, appropriate housing and board, complete health insurance benefits, an automobile and all expenses for trips to provincial, regional and national bishops meetings and workshops, as well as possible occasional visits to the Vatican.

Many lay people as well as clergy have turned to their faith to find answers to the confusion and pain they have experienced as a result of the recent church developments.

Alice L. Collins, a retiree and lifelong Catholic from Springfield, said her faith encompasses so much more than just the institution of the church.

"It's about my relationship with my God and Jesus Christ. No one person or group of people or institution can ever interfere with that," said Collins.

Karen Mercier of Chicopee, another lifelong Catholic, said she feels betrayed by the church, but expressed hope that the church can rebuild its credibility.

"I pray that church leaders take the necessary steps to create a stronger church," Mercier said.

Collins and Mercier said they never stopped going to church, but it wasn't always easy.

"It's been a test of faith. I have had to ask myself tough questions about what is faith and what is church and how the two are related," Collins said.


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