SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A district attorney said
yesterday that he would not prosecute Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas
Dupre on child rape charges — despite a newly unsealed
indictment in the case — because the statute of limitations
has expired.

In the indictment released yesterday morning, Dupre was charged
with molesting two boys in the 1970s, becoming the first Roman
Catholic bishop to face criminal charges in the sex abuse scandal
that has rocked the American church.

However, the grand jury returned indictments only related
directly to child abuse, and not to other possible charges such as
witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Without those
indictments, Hampden District Attorney William Bennett said he was
precluded from pursuing the case because the statute of limitations
in force at the time of the alleged crimes was limited to six
years.

“Even with probable cause, there was a strong possibility
that prosecution of such allegations could be barred by the statute
of limitations,” Bennett said in a news conference hours
after the charges became public.

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.

The indictment was handed up by a grand jury Friday and unsealed
yesterday morning.

Bennett said the grand jury was convened to investigate all
aspects of the allegations against Dupre, including whether he
tried to cover up the abuse and whether he had abused any other
children.

When Bennett announced in the spring that he would present the
case to a grand jury, he initially conceded that it could be
difficult to charge Dupre with abuse because of the statute of
limitations. But the prosecutor said later that Dupre could be
charged because of more recent attempts to conceal the alleged
crimes.

Bennett said the investigation uncovered no evidence to suggest
there were any other victims, nor was there evidence that any
church officials were aware of the allegations until they became
public earlier this year.

He also said that there was no evidence Dupre destroyed or
concealed any evidence of sexual misconduct by other church
officials.

The bishop’s lawyer, Michael Jennings, said he would ask a
judge to dismiss the charges against his client, arguing that the
statute of limitations had expired.

“At the time of the alleged crimes, there was a six-year
statute of limitations,” Jennings said. “It’s
clear to me that this doesn’t work for them.”

According to the indictment, Dupre started raping one of the
boys in 1976 in Chicopee and West Springfield; he started abusing
the other boy in 1979 in West Springfield.

Dupre’s alleged victims, who filed lawsuits against the
bishop and the diocese, 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.

Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the diocese, said Dupre’s
successor, Bishop Timothy McDonnell, would have no immediate
comment on the indictments.

There have been at least a dozen grand jury investigations
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 molesting
children.

After his retirement, Dupre went to St. Luke Institute, a
private Catholic 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 current whereabouts were not immediately known.

One of Dupre’s accusers, who immigrated to America in
1975, said the abuse began when he was 12 after his family was
befriended the priest.

The man claimed the abuse lasted until he began dating a girl in
high school.

Dupre allegedly took him on out-of-state trips and to Canada,
and bought pornography with the boy. Bennett said yesterday he
would turn over all the findings of the grand jury investigation to
federal authorities in the United States and Canada.

Dupre then allegedly started to abuse the other boy, who claims
he was abused until he was about 20.

The alleged victims agreed to remain silent, but say they kept
in touch with Dupre after he was appointed bishop in 1995. One of
the men says he continued to receive birthday and holiday cards
from Dupre, who also would send him money.

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