DA Won't Prosecute Bishop Accused of Rape
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Just hours after an indictment against former Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre was unsealed Monday accusing him of molesting two boys in the 1970s, the county prosecutor refused to pursue the case because the statute of limitations has expired.
The decision by Hampden District Attorney William Bennett means that, though Dupre is the first Roman Catholic bishop to face criminal charges in the sex abuse scandal still plaguing the U.S. church, he won't go to trial for them.
"I felt I took it as far as I could, Bennett said. "We've done everything we could do."
The grand jury returned indictments related only to child abuse, and not to other possible charges, such as witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Bennett said those other indictments were vital to the case.
Without them, the prosecutor said he was precluded from pursuing the matter because the statute of limitations in force at the time of the alleged crimes was limited to six years.
Still, Dupre's legal troubles are far from over. He faces lawsuits filed against him by his accusers, and Bennett said he plans to turn over the results of the grand jury investigation to authorities in New Hampshire, New York and Canada, where some of the abuse allegedly took place. Bennett said those jurisdictions may not be hamstrung by the same statute of limitation issues.
"They could then make their judgment as to what, if anything, they deem appropriate," he said.
Dupre, 70, cited health reasons when he resigned in February after nine years as head of the Springfield Diocese. But his departure came one day after The Republican newspaper of Springfield confronted him with allegations he abused two boys while he was a parish priest.
According to the indictment, Dupre started raping one of the boys in 1976; he started abusing the other boy in 1979.
Dupre's alleged victims have said the abuse continued for years and that Dupre asked them to keep quiet about it when he was made auxiliary bishop in 1990.
Bennett said the investigation uncovered no evidence to suggest there were any other victims, nor was there evidence that any church officials were aware of the allegations until they became public earlier this year.
He also said that there was no evidence Dupre destroyed or concealed any evidence of sexual misconduct by other church officials.
Dupre's lawyer, Michael Jennings, said Bennett was doing the right thing by choosing not to prosecute the case.
"It was the grand jury that brought these charges, not the district attorney," he said. "Grand juries are very often used to investigate. He had announced that there would be different avenues pursued, cover-ups. He has concluded that these allegations of wrongdoing cannot be prosecuted."
But Jeffrey Newman, an attorney for the alleged victims, said the indictment showed that there is credible evidence against Dupre.
"I think they did it to help set the public record straight," Newman said. "They wanted to let people know that there is very significant evidence out there that helps establish that Dupre did, in fact, engage in illicit sex with minors."
There have been at least a dozen grand jury investigations in the last two years involving how bishops dealt with abuse claims, and four bishops have resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct. But Dupre was the first U.S. prelate indicted on charges of abusing children.
"I can appreciate that the grand jury's task was not an easy one, nor was that of the district attorney," said Dupre's successor, Bishop Timothy McDonnell. "I couldn't help thinking of all those involved when I heard the news. My heart goes out to each of them — they are and will continue to be in my prayers."
One of the alleged victims, who immigrated to America in 1975, said the abuse began when he was 12 after his family was befriended by Dupre. The man claimed the abuse lasted until he began dating a girl in high school.
Dupre allegedly took him on out-of-state trips and to Canada, and bought pornography with the boy.
He then allegedly started to abuse the other boy, who says he was molested until he was about 20.
The alleged victims agreed to remain silent, but say they kept in touch with Dupre after he was appointed bishop in 1995. One of the men says he continued to receive birthday and holiday cards from Dupre, who also would send him money.
After his retirement, Dupre went to St. Luke Institute, a private psychiatric hospital in Maryland where the Boston Archdiocese sent many priests for treatment after sexual abuse allegations were made against them. The institute treats priests with emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems.
Dupre's current whereabouts were not immediately known.
McDonnell replaced Dupre in April. Since his installation, the diocese has reached a $7 million settlement with 46 people who say they were abused by priests. The Springfield Diocese serves some 262,000 Roman Catholics in western Massachusetts.
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