Not long after Bishop Thomas L. Dupre stood in a Greenfield church last month, denouncing gay marriage, a young man who says Dupre had sex with him when he was a 12-year-old sat 3,000 miles away, in California, reading a newspaper account of Dupre's sermon, speechless over what he considered unspeakable arrogance and hypocrisy.
According to the man's lawyer, it was Dupre's outspoken opposition to gay marriage that triggered the resolve to hold Dupre accountable for the alleged abuse.
Dupre, who abruptly resigned last week as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, may have unwittingly unleashed the forces that led the California man and a Massachusetts man to come forward with allegations against him and could lead to him becoming the first American bishop to be prosecuted on charges of sexually abusing minors.
In an interview yesterday, Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said he will encourage the two men to press charges.
Bennett, however, stressed that the decision was up to the two men.
"They may not wish to have their private lives made so very public," Bennett said.
While the allegations of abuse date to the late 1970s and early 1980s and would appear to fall outside the statute of limitations in Massachusetts, the alleged victims' Boston lawyer said Dupre sought the men's assurances in 1990 that they would never reveal the abuse, an action that some lawyers said could extend the statute of limitations.
Bennett said it was too early to say whether the allegations would fall within the statute of limitations.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., the lawyer representing the two alleged victims, said it was too early to say whether his clients will want to press criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages or both.
The allegations include abuse that took place during camping trips to Canada and other states, including New Hampshire, which could extend the statute of limitations in those jurisdictions, Bennett said.
MacLeish said Dupre summoned the two alleged victims to a private meeting prior to his being named auxiliary bishop of the Springfield diocese in 1990.
"He told them this was the first step to being named bishop of Springfield and that he would not take the appointment unless they remained quiet about the abuse," MacLeish said. "He said it would be an embarrassment to the church if it came out."
MacLeish said Dupre maintained a friendship with the men, sending the California man cards on holidays and birthdays, sometimes with money. He said neither man sought money from Dupre.
"This was a very manipulative relationship," said MacLeish. "These two boys were indoctrinated into thinking this was appropriate."
Dupre, 70, resigned last week, citing health reasons, the day after he was confronted with the abuse allegations brought to the diocese by a reporter from The Republican newspaper of Springfield.
The Globe learned yesterday that Dupre checked into St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md. While Dupre has said he had a heart condition, the institute does not have a coronary care unit. It does treat priests with emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems, including those who have sexually abused people.
Dupre did not return a telephone call to the institute seeking comment.
According to law enforcement sources, a pair of State Police detectives from the Hampden district attorney's office were en route to the Maryland facility to question Dupre earlier this week when a Springfield lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, called the prosecutor's office to inform them that he was representing Dupre. Those sources said Jennings insisted his client could not be questioned at that time, and the detectives were reached somewhere in New Jersey and told to return to Springfield.
Last night, Jennings declined to comment on anything related to the investigation or to confirm the whereabouts of his client and what he was being treated for. Jennings did, however, respond to complaints from some victims' advocates who suggested it was a conflict of interest for him to represent Dupre, because he used to work in the same law firm as Bennett before the district attorney took office in 1990.
"That's an insult to Bill Bennett, and it's not true," Jennings said.
MacLeish said that his clients were former altar boys and that Dupre sometimes plied them with wine and cognac before initiating sexual relations. The lawyer said Dupre told the boys that their sexual relationship "was a logical expression of love and that God teaches love."
MacLeish said that the California man, now 40, came to the United States in 1975 as part of a refugee resettlement program and that most of his family was sponsored by a parish in the Springfield diocese. He said Dupre, then a parish priest, befriended the boy and offered to teach him English.
"Bishop Dupre began having sex with our client when Bishop Dupre was 41 and our client was 12," said MacLeish.
He said the abuse ended when the boy was about 16 and began dating a girl. Before that, however, the boy had showed some gay pornography that Dupre bought for him to a friend at the high school, and Dupre initiated a relationship with that boy, too, according to MacLeish. He said the second man was abused when he was between the ages of 15 and 20.
"When our second client expressed concerns about the sexual relations that were initiated by Bishop Dupre, he was told that the alternative was a promiscuous gay lifestyle involving bathhouses," MacLeish said. "Bishop Dupre would show our second client pictures of people dying with AIDS, stating that if he had sex with others, he could become infected and die."
Last month, the second man, now 39, met Dupre at a Sturbridge restaurant and told him he never wanted the sexual relationship, MacLeish said. The man said Dupre apologized "in an unemotional way" and then said he wanted to remain friends for life, MacLeish said.
The California man came out as gay in the late 1980s, and was reading an account in a newspaper that circulates in the gay and lesbian community about how Dupre had taken a leading role in denouncing gay marriage, becoming furious at what he saw as Dupre's arrogance and hypocrisy, said MacLeish.
"It is ironic that in his vociferous attack on gay marriage, Bishop Dupre may have in fact opened the door to the events that led to his resignation," MacLeish said.