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Grand jury eyes charges for bishop

Hampden DA points to abuse accusations

Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said yesterday he has convened a grand jury to consider criminal charges against Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, who resigned Feb. 11 as head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield after being accused of sexually abusing two boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

If indicted, the 70-year-old Dupre would become the first American bishop to face criminal charges for sexual abuse.

Normally, prosecutors do not acknowledge the existence of grand juries, which hear evidence in secret. But in an interview Bennett said there is intense public interest in the case. "In light of that, I felt it appropriate to advise the public of the status of the investigation," he said.

"I have determined there is probable cause to support these allegations," said Bennett, who met last week with one of the alleged victims and spoke to the other by telephone. "Therefore, I have decided to present the matter to the grand jury for a full and complete review of all evidence."

Bennett said the statute of limitations on the alleged abuse in Massachusetts has probably expired, but that it might be extended because Dupre took steps to keep the sexual abuse secret as recently as last year.

Dupre could also face abuse charges in Canada and New Hampshire, where the alleged victims say Dupre abused them while on camping trips and where the statute of limitations would have been suspended once Dupre left the jurisdiction.

In separate interviews, Bennett and Roderick MacLeish Jr., the lawyer representing the two men who accuse Dupre of abusing them as minors, said prosecutors are exploring several possible charges beyond those related to the abuse itself. The bishop might be charged with intimidation of witnesses for having allegedly pressured the men to keep his relationship with them secret. And he might be charged with obstruction of justice for the possible destruction or concealment of records alleging abuse by Dupre and other priests in the diocese.

"Our preliminary investigation indicates that a number of communications to the diocese regarding sexual misconduct by Dupre were concealed and never provided" to authorities, as required under law, Bennett said.

Dupre's lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, declined to comment yesterday on the possible charges, except to say, "We'll see what the grand jury does."

Two weeks ago, the diocese said there had been sexual abuse allegations against less than 2 percent of the priests who had worked in the diocese over the last half-century, a rate less than half the national average, according to a nationwide study released last week.

"Given the nature of the allegations against Bishop Dupre and given the fact that he was essentially in a position to control records and documents regarding sexual misconduct over a period of years, legitimate concerns have been raised as to whether or not records were preserved and whether or not evidence of misconduct was properly reported," Bennett said.

The district attorney said his investigators searched the bishop's office earlier this week, but a spokesman for the diocese, Mark E. Dupont, said investigators have not yet searched Dupre's adjacent residence. Dupont said that Bennett's office has also requested a series of diocesan records and that the diocese "is cooperating with the district attorney's office."

Investigators are especially interested in locating two letters that the mother of one of Dupre's alleged victims says she sent to the bishop in late 2002 and last year, confronting him with the allegations. Investigators are also looking for an anonymous e-mail containing accusations of abuse that one of the alleged victims said Dupre told him about in late 2002.

Investigators "have communicated with diocesan legal counsel about e-mails involving the bishop," Dupont said. "We are in the process of complying with their requests." MacLeish said that Dupre had accused one of his clients of being behind the anonymous e-mail, but that his client had denied it.

Dupre, who was leader of a diocese serving 260,000 Catholics in four counties in Western Massachusetts for nine years, stepped down after being confronted with the allegations by The Republican newspaper in Springfield. He is a patient at St. Luke Institute, a Maryland psychiatric facility that treats priests for a variety of disorders, including sexual abuse.

The two alleged victims, who were best friends in high school, say Dupre plied them with wine and cognac before sex, showed them gay pornography, and agreed to accept his appointment as bishop only after obtaining their promise never to reveal the nature of their relationship.

MacLeish said that the two men, one of whom lives in California and the other in Massachusetts, began to reassess their relationship with Dupre over the last year and now believe they were exploited and abused. The California man, who came out as gay in 1989, was moved to come forward after reading a newspaper account in which Dupre took a leading role in denouncing gay marriage. MacLeish said the man, now 39, was angered over what he considers the hypocrisy of Dupre, who is alleged to have initiated sex with him when he was 12 and Dupre was 41.

"This man who has had the temerity to tell us how to conduct our lives in our bedrooms has committed gross violations in his own bedroom, not just of civil law but of canon law," MacLeish said.

While the criminal investigation of Dupre proceeds, his fate within his own organization remains murky. Church officials said they would send reports on the allegations to the Vatican. Under canon law, the pope is supposed to investigate and discipline bishops charged with misconduct.

Many victims and their advocates say Dupre was lenient toward abusive priests and put some who were removed from ministry for abuse in positions in which they could destroy church records. The most notorious of them was Richard R. Lavigne, who was convicted of molesting boys in 1992 and is a suspect in the 1972 slaying of a 13-year-old Springfield altar boy, Daniel Croteau. Despite Lavigne's record, Dupre did not seek to have him defrocked until last year.

Dupre also put another priest, the Rev. Richard J. Meehan, in charge of diocesan archives after removing him from ministry for abusing minors. In a deposition last year related to a lawsuit against the diocese, the diocese's keeper of records, the Rev. Daniel Liston, said that Meehan had thrown out some records.


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