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Spotlight Report

Bishop denies he said church records destroyed

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 9/20/2003

In what legal observers described as a highly unusual move, Bishop Thomas J. Dupre, head of the Roman Catholic diocese in Springfield, has asked to be deposed so he can answer under oath a recent allegation that he had revealed to some clergy that a prior Springfield bishop had destroyed incriminating records against diocesan priests.

Underscoring his desire to make his response firm and public, Dupre said he wanted members of the news media to be present when he is deposed by John J. Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer who represents more than 20 people who said they were sexually abused by diocesan priests.

In a statement Wednesday, Dupre said he wanted to formally refute statements attributed to him by the Rev. James J. Scahill, pastor at St. Michael's Church in East Longmeadow.

In interviews Tuesday with the Boston Globe and The Republican newspaper of Springfield, Scahill said that Dupre said last year that Bishop Christopher J. Weldon had destroyed church records when he retired. Weldon died in 1982.

"Because of published reports attributing to me statements I never made, I feel compelled to set the record straight in a formal setting," Dupre said.

Dupre admits having told Scahill and other members of a diocesan council that some of Weldon's personal papers were destroyed, but denies having said that records that could have implicated priests in sexual abuse or other crimes were destroyed.

Stobierski has been frustrated in his attempt to secure diocesan records he believes will show that the diocese left suspected child molesters in positions where they could abuse children. Among the records being sought by Stobierski are those about the Rev. Richard Lavigne, who in 1992 was convicted of molesting boys, and who remains a suspect in the 1972 murder of a Springfield altar boy. Last year, Scahill began withholding the 6 percent of his parish's weekly collection that goes to the diocese, in protest over Dupre's failure to defrock Lavigne.

Stobierski said he planned to depose Scahill on Sept. 29, but had not yet scheduled Dupre's deposition.

He said he would have preferred to wait until he got more records before deposing Dupre and suggested that Dupre may need to be deposed more than once.

"I welcome the opportunity to depose Bishop Dupre," said Stobierski. "The destruction of records is a significant matter that needs to be fully explored."

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