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Spotlight Report

Prelate's alleged victim to aid probe

Will help prosecutors investigating Dupre

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 2/26/2004

One of the two men who claim the former Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield, Thomas L. Dupre, sexually abused them when they were teenagers has agreed to help Hampden County authorities if they try to prosecute Dupre, the alleged victim's lawyer said yesterday.

If charged, Dupre, 70, would be the first American Catholic bishop to face criminal charges of sexually abusing minors. Officials were scheduled to speak to the second alleged victim last night, the lawyer said.

The decision by one of the men to cooperate with authorities targeting Dupre followed an emotional meeting Tuesday night between the alleged victim and William M. Bennett, the Hampden district attorney.

Bennett and two State Police detectives assigned to his office drove from Springfield to the Boston offices of Greenberg Traurig, the law firm representing the two men who say Dupre sexually abused them in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"The district attorney showed great compassion and met with my client for two hours," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., the alleged victims' lawyer. "The fact that he did it personally says something about the seriousness that the district attorney's office is taking this. My client was very heartened by the meeting with the district attorney."

MacLeish said his client gave Bennett and the two detectives "substantial corroborating information," including the names of witnesses, credit card receipts, and phone records to support the allegations against Dupre. He said his client, 40, of Massachusetts, is aware of how much the case will be scrutinized.

"He understands this could well be the first prosecution of a bishop in the United States," said MacLeish.

Dupre, who retired two weeks ago after The Republican newspaper of Springfield told him about the allegations, is a patient at St. Luke Institute, a Maryland medical facility that treats priests with emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems, including those who have sexually abused people. He did not return a call there seeking comment. His lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, declined to comment.

To date, neither Dupre nor his lawyer has responded to the allegations.

Bennett, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, was scheduled to speak to the other alleged victim, who lives in California, by telephone last night, MacLeish said. The two alleged victims, who were best friends in high school, say Dupre gave them wine and cognac before sex and showed them gay pornography. They said he agreed to accept his appointment as bishop only after they promised never to reveal the nature of their relationship.

MacLeish said the two men 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 with the allegations after reading a newspaper account in which Dupre took a lead role in denouncing gay marriage. MacLeish said the man, now 39, was angered by what he saw as the hypocrisy of Dupre, who is alleged to have initiated sex with him when he was 12 and Dupre was 41.

In an interview last week, Bennett said he wanted to seek charges against Dupre, but only if the victims were willing to cooperate with the investigation. Asked if his office was considering getting a search warrant for diocese records, Bennett said, "We're proceeding, but I can't go into the specifics of that."

MacLeish said investigators are probing several avenues for possible prosecution, including charges related to the allegations of sexual abuse and related to possible obstruction of justice involving records about the allegations that some people claim were sent to Dupre but have not been found. Among these records are a pair of letters that the mother of one of the alleged victims said she sent to Dupre in late 2002 and last year, confronting Dupre with the allegations, MacLeish said.

Mark E. Dupont, a diocese spokesman, said a diocese official searched for the mother's letters in diocesan files last week, but could not find them. He said the diocese had been asked by Bennett's office "not to go through the bishop's private files. They didn't say why."

MacLeish said his client also told authorities about an anonymous e-mail sent to Dupre in either November or December 2002 that made reference to his relationship with the two men.

"Bishop Dupre accused my client of betraying him, of revealing their relationship, and told him about the e-mail. My client told Bishop Dupre he did not send the e-mail and had not betrayed him," MacLeish said.

Like most of the allegations against priests that have surfaced since the clergy sexual abuse scandal exploded in January 2002, those leveled against Dupre appear to fall outside the statute of limitations. But MacLeish said Dupre sought the two men's assurances in 1990 that they would never reveal the abuse, an action that some lawyers said could extend the statute of limitations and amount to witness intimidation.

Last week, Bennett said it was too early in the investigation to say whether the allegations of abuse fall within the Massachusetts statute of limitations, but said the statute of limitations probably had not expired in Canada and New Hampshire, two jurisdictions where the alleged victims say Dupre abused them while on camping trips.

While it appears that Dupre violated state law mandating that he turn over to civil authorities any allegation of child sexual abuse, Bennett said it was unclear whether there is a Fifth Amendment exclusion because the allegation was against Dupre. Violation of that law carries a $1,000 fine.

Many victims and their advocates have accused Dupre of coddling abusive priests and putting some who were removed from ministry for abuse in positions where they could destroy records. The most notorious of those priests 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 move to defrock him until last year.

Last week, Bennett said he was concerned because so much of the information that his office relied on in deciding to investigate or prosecute sexual abuse by priests or diocesan employees was supplied by Dupre.

He is also concerned that Dupre put a priest, the Rev. Richard J. Meehan, in charge of diocesan archives after removing him from ministry for abusing minors.

In a deposition last year, the diocese's keeper of records, the Rev. Daniel Liston, said that Meehan had thrown out some records, but wasn't sure what they were.

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