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Spotlight Report

Diocese's report on sex abuse questioned

DA considers action on Springfield records

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 2/21/2004


Thomas Dupre resigned as bishop of the Springfield diocese on Feb. 11. (AP Photo)

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The Catholic Diocese of Springfield said yesterday that only 1.6 percent of the 1,003 priests who served in its parishes over the last half-century had faced "credible accusations" of sexual abuse, but the Hampden County district attorney said the report was flawed because there is evidence that some diocesan records have been withheld and that others may have been destroyed.

Law enforcement officials said they are considering legal action to search diocesan records themselves.

The report issued yesterday by the Springfield Diocese is part of a nationwide study of the scope and cause of sexual abuse by priests that is scheduled for release Friday in Washington. Officials of the Springfield Diocese released the report a week after Bishop Thomas L. Dupre resigned after being confronted with allegations that he had sexually abused two boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The report found that 30 priests from the diocese had been accused of abusing 70 minors over the last 50 years and that 16 of those accusations were credible. Officials in the Fall River Diocese released figures yesterday saying there were allegations against 32 of 1,353 priests, or 2.4 percent. A leaked draft of the nationwide report suggested that 4 percent of priests have been accused.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates called the Springfield report worthless, saying they did not trust the diocese to report truthfully about the extent of sexual abuse by its priests.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., the Boston lawyer who represents two men who say Dupre abused them when they were boys, said Springfield's figures "are ridiculously low."

"I don't accept their credibility, nor do I believe this represents even a fraction of the people who have been abused in the Springfield Diocese," MacLeish said. "The data is only as good as the people supplying it, and look who was providing it."

Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said he, too, was not convinced of the veracity of the report's conclusions, because there is evidence that Dupre withheld incriminating information from the district attorney's office and because other priests accused of sexually abusing minors have held record-keeping positions in the diocese.

"In light of the recent allegations, legitimate questions have to be asked whether or not the information provided thus far is reliable," said Bennett, whose office is investigating the allegations of sexual abuse against Dupre.

Asked if his office were considering obtaining a warrant and searching the diocese records, Bennett replied, "We're proceeding, but I can't go into the specifics of that." He declined to elaborate.

Bennett's investigators are expected to meet Tuesday with one of the two men who say that Dupre initiated sex with them when one of was 12 and the other was 15. The two say Dupre plied them with wine and cognac before sex, showed them gay pornography, and agreed to accept his appointment as bishop only after they promised never to reveal the nature of their relationship.

While it appears that Dupre violated state law that mandates that he turn over to civil authorities any allegation of child sexual abuse -- a letter that the mother of one of his alleged victims said she sent to him last year -- Bennett said it was unclear whether there is a Fifth Amendment exclusion because the allegation was against Dupre.

Mark E. Dupont, a diocesan spokesman, said a diocese official searched for the mother's letter in diocesan files last week, but could not find it or any other document that contained incriminating information against Dupre.

The diocese has been asked by Bennett's office "not to go through the bishop's private files," Dupont said. "They didn't say why."

He defended yesterday's report, insisting that Dupre "did not have a direct hand in preparing this report." For the report's data to be inaccurate, he said, "it would have had to be a conspiracy on many levels that doesn't seem probable."

But many victims and their advocates believe there was a conspiracy among Dupre and other compromised priests, some of whom he put in sensitive positions and others they say he coddled.

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 murder of a 13-year-old Springfield altar boy, Daniel Croteau. Despite Lavigne's record, Dupre did not defrock him until last year. Allegations about Lavigne accounted for half the accusations against diocesan priests in the last 50 years, according to the report.

Bennett said he is concerned because so much of the information his office has relied on in deciding to investigate or prosecute sexual abuse by priests or diocesan employees was supplied by Dupre since the clergy sexual abuse scandal ignited in the winter of 2002.

Bennett said he is also concerned that Dupre put a priest -- the Rev. Richard J. Meehan, who had been removed from ministry for sexual abuse -- in charge of diocesan archives. In a deposition last year, the diocese's keeper of records, the Rev. Daniel Liston, said that Meehan had thrown out some records, but that Liston wasn't sure what the records were.

During a separate deposition last September, Dupre denied under oath that he had said one of his predecessors, the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, had destroyed incriminating records, but acknowledged putting Meehan in charge of reorganizing the diocesan archives four years ago. Dupre also said the late executor of Weldon's estate, Monsignor David P. Welch, had destroyed some of Weldon's personal papers. Two weeks ago, a 65-year-old man filed a claim with the diocese saying that Welch sexually abused him in the early 1950s.

The Rev. James J. Scahill, a priest who accused Dupre of protecting abusers like Lavigne and accused Dupre of saying Weldon had destroyed records, said Dupre and other sexually abusive priests were alternately covering for and threatening each other, creating a cycle of coverup in which victims were an afterthought.

"There was a pattern of concealment here," Scahill said yesterday. "They have destroyed records. And they have destroyed souls. They have no credibility."

John J. Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer who represents 40 clients with 21 pending cases against the diocese, said questions about the integrity of records goes well beyond Dupre.

"There was a cabal of abusers here," he said. "You have to connect the dots."


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