SPRINGFIELD -- The temporary leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield urged churchgoers yesterday not to abandon their faith in light of allegations that outgoing Bishop Thomas Dupre molested two boys three decades ago.
"I know a lot of people have said this is the last straw, that they're giving up on the church," Monsignor Richard Sniezyk told about 100 parishioners at St. Michael's Cathedral. "To them I say, `don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.' This certainly is a sad chapter in the diocese of Springfield, but you know it's not the whole book."
Sniezyk was elected to lead the diocese on Friday, two days after The Republican newspaper reported that Dupre has been accused of molesting two boys while he was a parish priest in the 1970s.
Dupre's resignation was approved Wednesday, the day after the Springfield newspaper submitted to Dupre questions concerning the abuse allegations. Dupre, who checked himself into an undisclosed medical facility last week, cited health reasons for his departure. He announced last year that he planned to retire before he turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Dupre is 70.
Sniezyk, who said last week that the diocese must "come clean" in its handling of sexual abuse, said yesterday he understands the frustration and feelings of betrayal that may be "the last straw" pushing Catholics away from the church.
"People are hurt, disappointed, perhaps feeling betrayed," Sniezyk said. "You know I understand that, because so am I."
"I wonder what it would really feel like to feel good about my Catholic church for just 10 minutes," he said. "Every time we seem to be making headway out of a crisis, we receive another blow."
The diocese is facing about 40 lawsuits filed by people who said they were molested by priests.
Sniezyk urged people to remember the good deeds done by the diocese, and asked for their prayers.
"As we seek clarity about the nature of these allegations, I ask that you keep him in your prayers as he struggles with this," Sniezyk said. "I also ask that you keep these two men who have brought these allegations in your prayers as they continue their struggle."
Sniezyk said Friday he had not spoken with Dupre about the allegations. He said he would wait at least a week before contacting him.
Some parishioners said they were still working through the shock of last week's allegations, but had not lost faith.
"We've undergone so many scandals," said Jayson Brunelle. "It's not the first and it certainly won't be the last. I truly believe that . . . ultimately the church will prevail."