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Spotlight Report

Bishop denies saying predecessor destroyed abuse data

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 9/30/2003

SPRINGFIELD -- Bishop Thomas L. Dupre yesterday denied under oath that he said one of his predecessors had destroyed records about sexual abuse by priests in the Springfield diocese he heads, but admitted he put a priest who had been removed from parish work for sexual abuse in charge of the diocese archives.

In what legal observers said was an unusual, if not unprecedented, move, Dupre agreed to be deposed by lawyers for alleged victims of sexual abuse in the presence of journalists, saying he wanted to publicly and under oath deny saying that the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon destroyed personal and personnel files after retiring in the mid-1970s.

Dupre's deposition came immediately after one of the priests under his supervision, the Rev. James J. Scahill, was deposed and repeated allegations he made to The Boston Globe and The Republican newspaper of Springfield that Dupre made the remark about destroyed records after the clergy sexual abuse scandal exploded in Boston in the winter of 2002.

Scahill said Dupre made the comment while suggesting the Springfield diocese would not face the same problems that the Archdiocese of Boston was facing at the time over its handling of priests who abused minors. Scahill's St. Michael's Parish in East Longmeadow has withheld the diocese's portion of weekly collections in protest over Dupre's handling of the sexual abuse crisis.

Under questioning by diocesan lawyer Edward J. McDonough Jr., Dupre said he "never would have said Bishop Weldon destroyed any papers . . . because I don't know that." Dupre said the executor of Weldon's estate destroyed personal papers after Weldon died in 1982, but that any personnel files would have been returned to the diocese's archives.

Dupre repeatedly said he had trouble remembering exactly what he said or didn't say at a March 2002 meeting of an advisory council on which Scahill sits, but insisted nothing he said then could be construed as suggesting that Weldon had destroyed records that would incriminate priests in sexual abuse.

But under questioning by John J. Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer who represents nearly two dozen people with claims against the diocese, Dupre acknowledged he had assigned the Rev. Richard Meehan to organize those archives three or four years ago, after Meehan was removed as a parish priest because he had sexually abused a child.

Dupre said Meehan was not allowed access to what Dupre called "secret records" detailing allegations of sexual abuse against priests, which were kept "under lock and key." The bishop said he himself did not have a key to the secret records. When Stobierski asked if he would be surprised to learn that there are at least two keys to those secret files, and that the keys were kept in different locations at different times, apparently with little supervision, Dupre replied, "You know more about it than me."

Stobierski was following up on an earlier deposition of the Rev. Daniel Liston, the diocese keeper of records, that alleged Meehan had destroyed records.

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