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October 26, 2004

So Bishop Dupre Is Gone. What Now?

By Barbara Blaine
President and Founder of SNAP

The silence is deafening.

It's been nearly two weeks since Springfield's Catholic bishop, Thomas Dupre, was indicted for child rape, yet escaped criminal prosecution.

Legal technicalities may have prevented a full-fledged trial against Dupre. But it's pretty clear that he's a child molester. He was criminally indicted by an impartial grand jury. He faces at least two civil molestation lawsuits, brought by experienced and respected Boston attorneys. He resigned just hours before allegations against him were printed in the local newspaper. He went to a treatment center. He has not denied the charges against him. It's as close to a slam-dunk case as you can come.

In light of all this, what have Dupre's brother bishops said and done since the indictment?

Apparently, nothing.

Let's start with Dupre's successor, Bishop Timothy McDonnell.

Is he going through the diocese, parish by parish making this announcement: "We have reason to believe that Bishop Dupre molested boys. If you have information about these possible crimes, you have a civic duty to call law enforcement. And if you don't have such information, you also have a Christian duty to reach out to former students, staff and parishioners here, and ask them "Did Bishop Dupre hurt you too?"

In this society, we lock up child molesters, because that's what keeps kids safe. But if McDonnell can't bring himself to help with this process, how about something more simple: how about McDonnell asking the Vatican to defrock Dupre?

Apparently not. It's early in McDonnell's tenure in Springfield. He may not yet have an official motto. Perhaps he should consider "Silence Is Golden."

Then there's the much-bally-hooed Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley. A reasonable person might expect a word or two from O'Malley, because of his geographic proximity to Springfield and his perceived status as being a bit better than his colleagues when it comes to sexual abuse by clergy.

O'Malley could and should speak up, however, for another reason. According to Catholic law and custom, O'Malley is the "metropolitan" bishop of this region. As such, he actually is considered, in some respects, to be an overseer of the Springfield Diocese. He actually has some authority over Dupre and his successor.

But again, we get from O'Malley the same thing: silence.

Media reports and the Springfield DA have said that Dupre took two of his young victims on trips to Canada and elsewhere in New England. How about those bishops? Are they publicly pleading with other victims or witnesses or parishioners who might have information about the crimes to come forward?

Again, not a peep.

Finally, there's the media-genic Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville Illinois, who heads the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Two years ago, under intense pressure from parishioners and the public, Gregory talked a great game at the USCCB meeting in Dallas. "A priest who has sexually abused a minor will be permanently removed from ministry," he promised.

Gregory also bragged about an "unprecedented means to hold ourselves accountable to our people." But what's "accountable" about letting an indicted child rapist secretly slink off and telling no one his whereabouts?

Like so many of his colleagues, now that the klieg lights have moved elsewhere and the crisis has moved from page one to page 49, Gregory too is backsliding.

Sadly, there's plenty of blame to go around. The justice system plays an unfortunate role in this awful situation too. Dupre walks free either because of a timid district attorney, or because of antiquated statute of limitation laws, or both.

Still, civil remedies exist. If you think DA Bennett fell short, you can run or vote against him in the next election.

If you think Massachusetts laws need reforming, you can call your legislator, and walk the halls of the statehouse pushing for new laws that protect kids, not predators.

But on the clerical side, what can be done? Apparently little.

Despite dozens and dozens of solemn-faced bishops repeatedly pledging to handle abuse better, we're almost back to business as usual. A likely child molester, a potentially dangerous man - armed with his charm, his Roman collar and even his title -- roams the streets somewhere unsupervised. And from h is colleagues, his brother bishops, our alleged spiritual leaders, we get nothing but silence.

Barbara Blaine of Chicago is the founder and president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the nation's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. She can be reached at 312 399 4747.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests