Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield pays $4.5 million to 59 clergy abuse victims

The Republican, Massachusetts/December 2, 2008

Springfield - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield announced Tuesday it paid $4.5 million to 59 alleged victims of clergy abuse, including two men who named the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, former Springfield bishop, as their abuser.

The payments went out Nov. 20 and ranged from $5,000 to $200,000, according to statements released by the diocese.

This resolution followed a $7.7 million payout to dozens of claimants in 2004. They were recently offset by an $8.5 million settlement three insurance companies paid to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, after first resisting coverage of the abuse claims.

Some claimants said the recent payments they received from diocese after years of negotiations left them cold, and still haunted by decades-old memories.

Donald Smith Henneberger, 50, of Springfield, said he feels unsatisfied by the $75,000 he received for abuse he suffered when he was 11 and 12.

"This second round of victims, who seemed to have to wait and suffer more, are being treated like second-class citizens," said Henneberger, who estimated he was abused 75 to 100 times by a Stigmatine priest in Pittsfield while he was a paper delivery boy for a church there.

Dupre resigned abruptly in 2004 when questioned by The Republican about the abuse allegations. He fell under a criminal probe and was indicted by a grand jury that year for sexual assault of a child. However, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said he could not prosecute because the legal deadline to pursue the allegations had run out.

Dupre went to a Maryland treatment center for troubled priests after resigning. Many plaintiffs and others involved in the negotiations argue he remains there, his treatment financed by the diocese.

A lawyer for Dupre refused to confirm the cleric's whereabouts. A spokesman for the diocese also declined to discuss his location, but confirmed that the church is obligated to provide limited financial assistance to a priest unless he is defrocked.

A lawyer for about half of the plaintiffs, John J. Stobierski, of Greenfield, said a third Dupre accuser emerged in this group.

The lawyer and a representative from the diocese said the man, whose name was not disclosed, alleged he was abused by Dupre in Chicopee in the late 1960s when the accuser was 20. However, church officials said the settlement he received was linked to abuse by another priest when he was a child.

"We have no reason to dispute or support whether he was abused by Bishop Dupre, but that claim had no bearing on the settlement," said Mark E. Dupont, a spokesman for the diocese.

However, Michael O. Jennings, a lawyer for Dupre, said the new accusations are untrue.

"He categorically denies this, and if he had been required to, he could prove it never happened," Jennings said of Dupre.

Dupre's first accusers, Thomas Deshaies and Tuan Tran, both in their early 40s, were parishioners of Dupre's church in Holyoke during the 1970s. The men said he plied them with liquor and gay pornography while abusing them.

A lawyer for the men declined to comment on the settlement, as did Deshaies. Tran could not be reached.

Dupre contributed some of his own money for the payments to Deshaies and Tran, but officials would not say how much.

Claimants and their lawyers said that a settlement fund was established in June, and each had to complete paperwork detailing their abuse, then discuss it with a mediator. The mediator made recommendations on monetary settlements.

"Our rehashing of the whole thing ... It kind of took everyone back, to hear the horrors we endured," Peter J. Herrick, 51, of Bangor, Maine, said during an interview. "But, the church bears a lot of responsibility even today. It's driven a major wedge into my family .¤.¤. I kind of think we got low-balled and the lawyers for the diocese all patted themselves on the back."

Formerly of Greenfield, Herrick, his older brother Paul Herrick, and two other brothers said they suffered abuse by what they termed a cabal of abusive priests including the defrocked Edward M. Kennedy, the late J. Roy Jenness and the Rev. Ronald E. Wamsher. Peter and Paul Herrick are estranged from their other siblings and their father, they said.

Dupont said the diocese intends to support the claimants beyond the settlement.

"We didn't cut these checks to walk away from these people," Dupont said. "The harm that has been done to many of these individual will take a lifetime to heal, if ever."

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