Sunday, May 30, 2010

Church hit on accountability

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic church rebuffed a call to control the movements of Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, who fled Springfield for a Maryland treatment center after being confronted with abuse allegations in 2004.

A victims' advocacy group on Tuesday announced that Dupre, who served as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield before fleeing, has taken up residence at a Catholic retirement home in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Members of Survivors of those Abused by Priests denounced the move as tantamount to letting a "serial predator" move about unfettered.

"We're concerned and we'd like him to be returned to a more secure facility," said member William Nash, who appears as spokesman for the group at its frequent press conferences in front of the chancery on Elliot Street.

In response, diocese spokesman Mark E. Dupont said, "First, I'd like to know what U.S. law there is that allows the Catholic church to imprison people."

Secondly, Dupont said, ancient laws established by the Vatican mandate that no one but the pope has authority to discipline a bishop, and those proceedings are secret.

The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, who now serves as bishop of the Springfield diocese, has said Dupre is "fully retired" and no longer in public ministry. However, it is unclear whether that transition was voluntary.

A call to the retirement home went unreturned. Dupre's lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, declined comment.

Dupre abruptly retired and essentially disappeared after being confronted by The Republican with molestation accusations in 2004. He was indicted on rape charges the same year by a Hampden County grand jury, but avoided prosecution as the abuse occurred many years earlier and the statute of limitations had run out.

Dupre fled after allegations surfaced that he had abused two young boys when he was a parish priest in Holyoke in the 1970s. He has since reached out-of-court settlements with both men.

The prelate ducked public ramifications of the scandal by retreating to the treatment center for priests in Silver Spring, Md., for more than three years.

Dupre has rebuffed repeated requests to make a public statement at the advice of his lawyer, leaving his former diocese to manage the fallout.

He recently was subject to a videotaped deposition in connection with a civil lawsuit questioning his supervision over other abusive priests. Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, who represents the plaintiffs, said Dupre invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself throughout the inquiry.

Jennings has filed a motion in court to block any public release of the videotaped interview. That motion is pending.

Dupont said he wishes the diocese did not have a kind of default ownership of the Dupre scandal, given canon law and the prelate's silence. The spokesman said the enduring attention paid to Dupre's departure takes away from the local church's efforts to repair and fend off abuse.

"Revisiting this painful chapter in our history, may be important to some, but in a practical sense does little to prevent future abuse, which is addressed by the efforts we have long ago undertaken and for which we remain firmly committed," Dupont said.