In many ways, former Springfield bishop Thomas L. Dupre epitomized the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.
Dupre, who died Dec. 30 at 83, was the first Roman Catholic bishop to be indicted in the scandal, which burst into public view 15 years ago this month when the Globe’s Spotlight team began reporting about the church hierarchy’s protection of priests who abused minors. Advocates for victims say Dupre had cultivated a culture of secrecy that kept such abuse shrouded for years.
But the Vatican never punished him beyond accepting his resignation — at least not publicly. And Dupre was never prosecuted for his crimes because the statutes of limitation had expired, preventing prosecutors from seeking justice.
“This man should have been held accountable,” said Eric MacLeish, a lawyer who represented two men who accused Dupre of abusing them as minors. “He should have died in prison for the damage he did.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield did not say how Dupre died. He was not living in the Springfield area, church officials said, and his funeral arrangements will be private.
Dupre resigned as bishop in February 2004, a day after the Springfield Republican newspaper confronted him with allegations that he had abused two boys in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Around that time, Mac-Leish told the Globe, the men said Dupre gave them wine and cognac to drink before sex and showed them gay pornography. Both victims said they were abused for years, beginning at the ages of 12 and 15.
When Dupre stepped down, the Diocese of Springfield cited poor health as the reason.
In September of 2004, Dupre was indicted by a Hampden County grand jury on two counts of child rape. But days later, prosecutors dropped the charges after they concluded that the statute of limitations had run out. MacLeish said that prosecutors had no choice but that it was excruciatingly painful for the victims. The men, who claimed Dupre had coerced them to remain silent, were in their early 40s when they came forward.
Dupre received treatment at St. Luke Institute, a medical facility in Maryland known for assisting priests who sexually abused minors.
It is not clear whether Dupre was punished by the Vatican. Mark Dupont, a spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield, said Tuesday that Dupre was never laicized, or stripped of his priestly authority. But he never returned to public ministry.
“Although never publicly acknowledged, it would appear to have been similar to that of a life of prayer and penance with no allowance for any public ministry,” Dupont said in an e-mail. “However, as with any non-laicized diocesan clergy member, under church law we were obliged to provide some assistance to him.”
As a bishop, Dupre was overseen by the Vatican, not the diocese, Dupont said.
In 2008, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, the Diocese of Springfield said it had paid $4.5 million to 59 victims in a settlement. Dupre, whose accusers were included in the agreement, personally contributed to the settlement amount, according to the Associated Press.
Michael O. Jennings, a lawyer who represented Dupre during the 2004 investigation, said Tuesday that he hoped Dupre “experienced some level of forgiveness for any wrongs that he was responsible for during his life, and that such forgiveness offered him some peace at the time of his passing.”
Even before he resigned, Dupre was reviled by victims’ advocates, who accused him of protecting abusive priests. In 2002, the Globe reported that Dupre removed the Rev. Bruce Teague from his post as pastor after he told the police that the Rev. Richard Lavigne — a priest who was convicted of child molestation and who had been a prime suspect in the 1972 murder of an altar boy — was hanging around his church. Teague said he called the police after the diocese failed to respond to his concerns.
In 2012, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, Dupre and his predecessor, Bishop Joseph Francis Maguire, reached a $500,000 settlement with Andrew Nicastro, a man who said the prelates’ failure to remove a known abusive priest resulted in Nicastro’s case of abuse in Williamstown in the 1980s. Dupre repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination in the case, according to the AP. Maguire died in 2014 at age 95.
Terence McKiernan, a spokesman for BishopAccountability.org, an online archive of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, said Dupre’s story reflects the Vatican’s past failures — and ongoing struggles — in holding bishops accountable for the abuse of children.
“Dupre, even though he paid a price in the sense that he did resign once his past was revealed, that’s a pretty mild punishment,” McKiernan said. “And I think most bishops who enabled abuse, and even some bishops who offended themselves, paid no price at all.”
Pope Francis, who has vowed to hold bishops accountable, has appointed Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, to an advisory panel on sexual abuse. Those members have been invited to address a training course for new bishops, the Associated Press reported last fall.
Yet the Vatican has allowed many bishops who have protected child abusers to step down without a clear public accounting and condemnation of their misconduct, McKiernan said.
In a letter released Monday marking the Dec. 28 Feast of the Holy Innocents, the pope asked for the church to renew its “complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst.’’
“Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated,” Francis wrote. “In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to ‘zero tolerance.’ ”
Material from the Globe archives and the Associated Press was used in this report. Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.