Springfield -- Hampden County prosecutors said yesterday they are investigating sex abuse claims against Bishop Thomas Dupre, months after a local priest told Attorney General Thomas Reilly about the allegations.
Dupre resigned Wednesday, citing declining health, and was hospitalized. The announcement came one day after The Republican newspaper of Springfield submitted to Dupre a series of questions concerning allegations he molested two boys when he was a parish priest in the 1970s.
Monsignor Richard Sniezyk, who is running the daily operations of the diocese until a successor can be named, said yesterday he has turned over the questions and the names of the alleged victims to the Hampden district attorney's office. Sniezyk also said he will issue a report on the situation to Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley.
"We are going to review all the information," District Attorney William Bennett said. "We have to determine the truth of the allegations. If they're true, we have to decide whether they're criminal, and if so, whether they can be prosecuted."
The statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases is generally 10 to 15 years, he said.
The Rev. James Scahill, a longtime critic of Dupre and his handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal, counseled the mother of one of the boys. He said he spoke with Reilly after he left an urgent message for O'Malley in November.
But O'Malley never returned his call, and Reilly "said that if the victims were willing to come forward, he would prosecute to the full extent of the law," Scahill said.
Ann Donlan, a spokeswoman for Reilly, confirmed that the attorney general met with Scahill in November to discuss the allegations against Dupre.
"The identity of the victim was not passed on," Donlan said. "The attorney general made it clear that the matter would be referred to the district attorney's office if the victim came forward."
Donlan said Scahill was not obligated to report the suspected abuse to police because the alleged victims are now adults.
Attorney Eric MacLeish, who has counseled both alleged victims of Dupre, said both men wish to remain anonymous.
Before he called Reilly, Scahill said he left a message for O'Malley, saying he needed to discuss "a dire matter that concerned the entire well-being of [the] church."
Scahill said he also spoke with a woman at the archdiocese, but did not give her any details about the abuse allegations. He said no one from the archdiocese called him back.
"I said it was very urgent that he contact me because of the importance of the matter," Scahill said.
Mary McGeer, a nun in Scahill's East Longmeadow parish, said she was in the room with the priest when he made the call. "He certainly got his message across that this was very serious," she said.
O'Malley's spokesman, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, said neither the archdiocese nor its attorney on sexual abuse matters has any record of receiving a phone call or letter from Scahill concerning allegations of abuse by Dupre.
"Anyone who knows the policies and procedures for handling matters like this would know that a phone call of this type is not the way to do it," Coyne said.
He said Scahill should have gone through the proper channels by calling the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Delegate's office and following up with a letter.
"That's the way you do it," Coyne said. "An unsolicited phone call of such an ambiguous nature is not the way you handle serious matters such as this."
Scahill said he didn't write a letter or follow up on his call because "I felt I did what I could."
"I'm so used to this system of denial that I felt I did all I could do to fulfill my obligation, and that was it," Scahill said.
Accusations of clergy sex abuse have plagued the diocese during Dupre's tenure, but have been overshadowed by reports of widespread abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, where MacLeish and other attorneys brokered an $85 million settlement between the church and more than 550 victims.
The allegations against Dupre are the first public claims that the bishop himself may have abused children.
John Stobierski, a Greenfield lawyer who represents more than a dozen people who say they were molested by priests in the Springfield diocese, called on the attorney general's office to conduct an investigation similar to one that Reilly did last year of the Boston archdiocese.
"Bishop Dupre was in a leadership position for a long time," Stobierski said. "He has a vast opportunity to make decisions and control information about the diocese. Given these allegations that he molested children himself, to me that warrants an investigation."