MA bishop is indicted but won't be tried
Statute limit cited in child rape case
By Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe Staff
September 28, 2004
A Hampden County grand jury has indicted the Most Rev. Thomas
L. Dupre, the retired Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield,
on two charges of child rape. But just hours after the unsealing
of the indictments yesterday, the county district attorney
said he would not prosecute Dupre because the charges fell
outside the statute of limitations.
The grand jury secretly indicted Dupre on Friday, making
him the first US bishop to face criminal charges for sexual
abuse. The jury charged Dupre with raping two boys on multiple
occasions in the 1970s.
But Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett, acting
before most of the 260,000 Catholics in the diocese had learned
of the indictment, said yesterday that it was his ethical
obligation to dismiss the charges because his office had found
no evidence to support extending the statute of limitations.
The statute in force at the time of the alleged crimes put
a six-year limit on prosecuting such offenses.
Dupre could still face charges in other jurisdictions where
the alleged victims say he had sex with them on camping trips.
Bennett said that he was referring the case to prosecutors
in New Hampshire, New York, and Canada, and that he would
alert the US attorney's office. Some of the allegations involve
interstate travel, which could trigger federal statutes.
Bennett had convened a grand jury in March to consider whether
to bring criminal charges against Dupre. He said at the time
that he believed that even though the six-year limit had long
since passed, the bishop might still be prosecuted because
he allegedly took steps as recently as last year to conspire
to keep the abuse secret.
Bennett, explaining his decision not to prosecute, said yesterday
that he used the grand jury as an investigative tool and that
it was in the public interest to determine whether Dupre had
committed statutory rape against the two alleged victims,
whether there were other victims, and whether Dupre had engaged
in a coverup.
"We needed to find out whether there were any circumstances
under which the statute of limitations could be tolled, whether
or not there was a direct conspiracy," Bennett said.
Bennett said the seven-month investigation had found no evidence
of other victims, and no evidence that the diocese had helped
cover up the alleged abuse, or that Dupre had destroyed evidence
against other sexually abusive priests.
Bennett's decision not to prosecute outraged some victim's
advocates. But it did not come as a surprise to the attorney
for the two men who say Dupre raped them. Attorney Jeffrey
A. Newman said both he and the alleged victims accepted the
"My understanding is that the grand jury members were
informed that the statute was insurmountable, but that the
evidence was so compelling that they decided to render the
indictments anyway," Newman said. "I informed my
clients this morning about the circumstances. They were grateful
for the vote of support by the grand jury, and while disappointed
that it is not going forward, they understand and accept it."
Newman said a team at his firm, Greenberg Traurig, had researched
whether the statute of limitations could be extended because
Dupre allegedly coerced the victims to remain silent and destroyed
evidence. But he said his firm reached the same conclusion
as Bennett. The firm also represents the two men in a civil
suit filed against Dupre last March.
Bennett did face harsh criticism from some who have pressed
the Springfield diocese to crack down on abusive priests.
The Rev. James Scahill, a priest who testified before the
grand jury and was instrumental in forcing Dupre to resign,
accused Bennett of political cowardice and suggested Bennett's
friendship with Dupre's lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, played
a role in the decision. Jennings and Bennett shared a private
law practice before Bennett was elected district attorney
"This is a travesty," said Scahill, who counseled
the mother of one of the alleged victims and helped persuade
her and her son to come forward with the allegations. "We've
known for some time we were not going to get honesty out of
this institutional church, and now we've been let down by
the legal system for political reasons."
Jennings called suggestions that Bennett dismissed the case
as a favor to him "ridiculous." Newman, the alleged
victims' lawyer, said he did not believe that past ties between
Jennings and Bennett played any role.
"If there was a conspiracy, this would have ended a
long time ago," Jennings said.
Bennett did not return a call seeking comment.
Since the scandal erupted in 2002, first in Boston, then
throughout the United States, four other US bishops have resigned
after being accused of sexual abuse of minors, but Dupre was
the first to face criminal charges.
According to the indictment, Dupre began raping one of the
boys in 1976 in Chicopee and West Springfield. He is accused
of raping the other boy in 1979 in West Springfield. The two
alleged victims say Dupre plied them with alcohol, showed
them gay pornography, and agreed to accept his appointment
as bishop only after they promised never to reveal the nature
of their relationship.
Their lawyers said that the two men, one of whom lives in
California, the other in Massachusetts, began to reassess
their relationship with Dupre over the last year. The California
man, now 39, who came out as gay in 1989, was moved to come
forward, his lawyers said, after reading a newspaper account
in which Dupre took a lead role in denouncing gay marriage.
Dupre, 70, abruptly resigned and retired last February after
being confronted with the allegations by The Republican newspaper
of Springfield, and has since been treated at St. Luke Institute,
a Catholic psychiatric hospital in Maryland known for treating
priests who sexually abuse minors.
Dupre's status within his church remains unclear.
Mark E. Dupont, a spokesman for the Springfield diocese,
said no one in the diocese knows where Dupre is, nor whether
he will face disciplinary charges.
"He has no canonical relationship with the diocese,"
Dupont said. "Bishops are answerable only to the Holy
See and the pope."
Dupre's successor, Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, issued a
statement yesterday saying, "The grand jury's task was
not an easy one, nor was that of the district attorney."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved,"
said McDonnell. "We join them in hoping for healing and
some measure of peace."
Globe correspondent Michael Busack contributed to this report