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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," said Bennett.

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 of minors.

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 said.

Jennings, who said he wouldn't comment on the credibility of the allegations, also refused comment on Dupre's health and whereabouts.

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 said.

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 investigation.

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 the woman.

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 said.

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 of limitations.

"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 said.

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 said.

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 prosecution.

"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 said.

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 Manship.

"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

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests