SPRINGFIELD, MASS. Just hours after an indictment against former Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre was unsealed Monday accusing him of raping two boys in the 1970s, the county prosecutor refused to pursue the case because the statute of limitations had expired.
The decision by Hampden Dist. Atty. William Bennett means that, though Dupre is the first Roman Catholic bishop to face criminal charges in the sex-abuse scandal still plaguing the U.S. church, he won't go to trial for them.
"I felt I took it as far as I could, Bennett said. "We've done everything we could do."
The grand jury returned indictments related only to child abuse, and not to other possible charges, such as witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Bennett said those other indictments were vital to the case.
Without them, the prosecutor said he was precluded from pursuing the matter because the statute of limitations in force at the time the crimes allegedly took place was limited to six years.
Still, Dupre's legal troubles are far from over. He faces lawsuits filed against him by his accusers, and Bennett said he planned to turn over the results of the grand jury investigation to authorities in New Hampshire, New York and Canada, where some of the abuse allegedly took place. Bennett said those jurisdictions might not be hamstrung by the same statute of limitation issues.
Dupre, 70, cited health reasons when he resigned in February after nine years as head of the Springfield Diocese. But his departure came one day after The Republican newspaper of Springfield confronted him with allegations he abused two boys while he was a parish priest.
According to the indictment, Dupre started raping one of the boys in 1976; he started abusing the other boy in 1979.
Dupre's alleged victims have said the abuse continued for years and that Dupre asked them to keep quiet about it when he was made auxiliary bishop in 1990.
Bennett said the investigation uncovered no evidence to suggest there were any other victims.
There have been at least a dozen grand jury investigations in the last two years involving how bishops dealt with abuse claims, and four bishops have resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct. But Dupre was the first U.S. prelate indicted on charges of abusing children.
After his retirement, Dupre went to St. Luke Institute, a private psychiatric hospital in Maryland where the Boston Archdiocese sent many priests for treatment after sexual abuse allegations were made against them. The institute treats priests with emotional, behavioral and psychological problems.
Dupre's whereabouts were unknown.