Grand jury indicts former Massachusetts bishop
Statute of Limitations Prevents Prosecution
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
By BILL ZAJAC - Springfield Republican
SPRINGFIELD - Former Bishop Thomas L. Dupre has become the
highest Catholic prelate in the nation to be indicted on child
sexual assault charges, but will escape a state criminal trial
because the alleged crimes are too old.
Within hours after the grand jury indictments were entered
into court records yesterday, Hampden County District Attorney
William M. Bennett announced he could not pursue two counts
of child rape against Dupre because they fell outside the
statute of limitations. The crimes allegedly occurred beginning
in 1976 in Chicopee and West Springfield.
The grand jury did not indict Dupre on other charges, including
obstruction of justice and conspiracy counts, that might have
fallen within the statute. Investigators were trying to determine
whether Dupre might have destroyed at least one e-mail detailing
the allegations and two letters from the mother of one of
the alleged victims within the past year.
Bennett said he is preparing to share information with the
U.S. attorney's office and law enforcement officials in New
York, New Hampshire and Canada, where Dupre is accused of
taking one or both of the boys more than two decades ago.
Several hours after the indictments were entered into the
Hampden Superior Court docket yesterday, Dupre's lawyer, Michael
O. Jennings of Springfield, filed motions to dismiss the indictments,
stating that the statute of limitations prohibits prosecution
of Dupre. Jennings also filed a not guilty plea on behalf
of his client.
Bennett, in turn, filed a motion that effectively dropped
his intent to prosecute. At a late afternoon press conference,
Bennett said he explored ways in which the statute of limitations
might be overcome.
"There have been jurisdictions in which coercion or
duress were successfully argued to toll (freeze) the statute.
But we found no evidence to support that theory here,"
His office began investigating Dupre after The Republican
reported the allegations against Dupre on Feb. 11. The newspaper
confronted the bishop with detailed written allegations Feb.
10 that he abused two boys more than two decades ago; he announced
his intent to retire early for health reasons the next day.
By the time his resignation was announced, Dupre had already
checked into St. Luke Institute, a Silver Spring, Md., facility
that treats priests for disorders that include sexual abuse
Under current Massachusetts law, a person can be prosecuted
up to 15 years after they are suspected of committing the
crime of child rape. However, if the victim is under 16, prosecutors
have 15 years from the victim's 16th birthday in which to
prosecute, or 15 years from when the crime is reported to
law enforcement, whichever occurs earlier.
The Republican, which had been investigating the charges
for months, confronted the bishop before his accusers had
decided to press charges. The men are now close to 40 years
old. The law has been changed several times in the past several
decades, varying the length of the statute.
Jennings, who was a law partner of Bennett's 14 years ago,
said that the statute of limitations was six years during
the period covered by the indictments.
"I don't know why the grand jury decided to return these
indictments," Jennings said.
However, Bennett said the grand jury's responsibility is
to simply determine "just cause."
"Our responsibility is different. It is to determine
if prosecution is possible. We decided it wasn't," Bennett
Jennings, who said he wouldn't comment on the credibility
of the allegations, also refused comment on Dupre's health
Bennett, however, said that he would have pursued prosecution
if the statute of limitations didn't exist.
Bennett said he knew that when the grand jury began investigating
Dupre in March, there was a chance that the statute of limitations
could quash his ability to prosecute.
"I made a decision that there was a public interest
in having these matters brought to the grand jury," Bennett
Peter C. Pollard, coordinator of the Western Massachusetts
affiliate of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests,
expressed dismay at the unfolding of events yesterday.
"I had hope there would be someone who would be held
accountable for the harm done to so many children. Again a
prosecutor couldn't find a way to successfully pursue someone
accused of abuse," said Pollard.
He didn't blame Bennett.
"I feel a sense of betrayal by the system; it is not
the individual players," Pollard said.
The two alleged victims have never been identified publicly.
One, a gay man who had been living in California, has said
Dupre's crusade against gay marriage in Massachusetts in the
weeks before he resigned made him angry enough to contact
Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish.
Each now has a civil suit pending against Dupre.
MacLeish, who helped litigate an $85 million settlement with
the Boston Archdiocese, didn't return calls seeking comment.
Bennett said the alleged victims fully cooperated with the
The mother of one of the victims, who shared information
of the alleged abuse with The Republican even before her son
was willing to initiate legal action against Dupre, said she
has no regrets about coming forward - even in the wake of
the disappointment that Dupre will not be prosecuted here.
"It was a charade having this man as bishop and speaking
about how he is handling clergy abuse in this diocese when
he was an abuser himself," said the woman, who doesn't
want to be identified.
"I feel good about exposing him for who he was,"
said the woman, who works in a Catholic school in this diocese.
"I want to keep my name private only because I want
to protect my son. He has been hurt enough," she said.
The woman said her son is now happy the abuse was exposed
and he is beginning a healing process that she anticipates
will take years.
"He is still hurting, but making progress," said
Her son was a freshman in high school when the other alleged
victim introduced him to Dupre. The other victim was a 12-year-old
refugee when the abuse began, according to MacLeish.
In a statement about a week after The Republican reported
the story, the two men said the bishop carried gay pornography
in a briefcase and plied them with liquor.
Bennett said that the grand jury and his office is no longer
considering any charges against Dupre. However, he would not
comment about whether the grand jury investigation might lead
to any action against the diocese regarding the handling of
clergy sexual abuse.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network
of Those Abused by Priests, called yesterday's events painful.
"Our hearts ache for these brave young men who did what
they should: reported to police, cooperated with prosecutors,
but were ultimately re-victimized by an archaic and dangerously
restrictive legal technicality," Clohessy said.
He hopes that anyone else with potentially helpful information
brings it to law enforcement.
"Common sense, history, and psychology tell us it is
likely that other youngsters were sexually assaulted by Dupre.
It's also likely that several current or former diocese or
parish employees or members have information about Dupre's
crimes but have not come forward to share it with law enforcement.
It is time for them to step up to the plate," Clohessy
Bennett said no other alleged victims of Dupre came forward
during the investigation.
Joan M. Smola, a spokeswoman for the Springfield/Northampton
affiliate of the Voice of the Faithful, said this case again
points out the need to change the law regarding the statute
"The clergy sexual abuse scandal has shown the shortcoming
of a law that allows people to get away with abusing children
and not be held accountable," said Smola, whose organization
promotes greater lay involvement in the Catholic Church.
"Everything we know about abuse now shows that it takes
a great deal of time for a victim to come forward," Smola
Bennett said the investigation provided no evidence that
Dupre destroyed or altered any records to cover up his alleged
abuse or the alleged abuse of any priest.
The Rev. James J. Scahill, an East Longmeadow priest who
publicly battled Dupre over clergy abuse issues, is one of
two people who have said Dupre talked about the destruction
of records. The other person is an alleged victim of abuse,
who said Dupre shared information at a deanery meeting when
he was chancellor.
Scahill called the failure to prosecute Dupre "a tragic
development" and said he stands by his statements that
Dupre told other priests in a diocesan meeting that records
that might have detailed clergy abuse were destroyed.
"There is more to it than molestation. This better explains
why Dupre was so cozy with abusive clerics," Scahill
Dupre is one of a group of priests who have held positions
of authority in the diocese and who have been accused of sexually
abusing minors. Among 14 local priests accused of sexual misconduct
were a secretary to two bishops, the executor of one bishop's
estate and the late head of diocesan schools. Another was
the chief recruiter of young seminarians, a man who was later
entrusted with diocesan records.
Warren E. Mason, a St. Michael's of East Longmeadow parishioner
who encouraged Scahill to speak out on behalf of clergy abuse
victims, expressed disappointment that Bennett would not pursue
"However, it's fitting that Thomas Dupre should be the
first bishop in this country indicted for the heinous sexual
abuse of children. This diocese is a rat's nest of abusers,
many of whom have yet to face the music, thanks in great measure
to Dupre's efforts to protect his fellow abusers," Mason
The Rev. Paul E. Manship, the head of Latino ministries in
the Springfield diocese, said yesterday's events fail to bring
closure to a painful chapter in diocesan history.
"Many diocesan priests as well as lay people are angry
about the manner in which Dupre left his office," said
"He left in the middle of the night without an explanation.
This man was supposed to be our spiritual leader and to whom
we made a vow of obedience, yet all we have heard from him
is silence. ... To hear nothing from him is the worst possible
response," said Manship.
He added that many lay people mistakenly assume priests know
of Dupre's whereabouts.
"We know nothing," Manship said.
The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, who succeeded Dupre as
bishop less than two months after Dupre resigned his post,
called the grand jury's task a difficult one.
"Now, more than ever, we need to be a people of faith;
now, during these difficult and challenging times, we need
to turn to our God. Our thoughts and prayers are with all
those involved. We join them in hoping for healing and some
measure of peace," McDonnell said in a statement.
John J. Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer who recently negotiated
a $7.5 million settlement with the diocese on behalf of his
46 clients who claimed they were sexually abused by priests,
said the indictments were significant.
"For the person (Dupre) who was directing the legal
defense against the victims to now be personally implicated
- even without a chance of prosecution here - moves this whole
crisis to a different level," Stobierski said.
Staff writer Marla Goldberg contributed to this story.
Copyright 2004 MassLive.com.