A grand jury indicted Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, the former head of the Springfield, Mass., Roman Catholic diocese, on two counts of child rape, but he will not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations on the case has expired, a county district attorney said Monday.
Dupre, 70, became the first bishop to face criminal charges in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal that began more than two years ago. He resigned in February, citing health problems, the day after a reporter from the Republican, a Springfield newspaper, confronted him with allegations that he had molested two adolescent boys while serving as a parish priest in the 1970s.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said he had decided "to terminate the criminal investigation and prosecution of these matters in Massachusetts." He added that "there was a strong possibility that prosecution of such allegations could be barred by the statute of limitations."
In March, when he announced that a grand jury had been convened, Bennett said the statute of limitations might not apply if crimes were deliberately concealed. But Monday he said no such evidence was found.
The statute of limitations on child rape in Massachusetts was six years at the time the crimes were allegedly committed and is now 15 years from the victim's 16th birthday or 15 years from when the victim first reported the crime to law enforcement, whichever comes first. Legal experts said that grand juries are not instructed to consider such issues when considering an indictment.
Bennett "did what he had to do," said Dupre's attorney Michael Jennings, who would not disclose the bishop's whereabouts or comment on the validity of the allegations against him. "I don't think he stands to be criticized."
But many local abuse victims and their advocates said they were furious with the district attorney, and they accused him of failing to hold Dupre accountable for his alleged crimes.
Dupre was a highly controversial figure even before his resignation, accused of playing hardball with victims who came forward with abuse allegations. He was admitted earlier this year to the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, which treats Catholic clergy for mental and addictive disorders, including pedophilia.
"What has happened is a disgrace. I feel like I was raised up to a point of elation and then slapped back down," said Peter Pollard, the western Massachusetts coordinator for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "All I am hoping now is that someone else comes forward, perhaps someone whose abuse occurred within the statute."
The two alleged victims' names have not been made public. Their attorney in civil proceedings against the diocese, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said in April that both men are about 40 years old, and that one was abused between the ages of 12 and 17, while the other's abuse began at age 14 or 15 and ended when he was 20.
The two victims were school friends, and one was reportedly a Vietnamese refugee whom Dupre had offered to tutor in English.
MacLeish said Dupre gave the two boys alcohol, showed them pornography and engaged in "acts of penetration" with them. He added that Dupre took them on trips outside Massachusetts, which might make it possible to prosecute the bishop elsewhere.
Bennett said Monday that he would refer relevant information to authorities in New Hampshire, New York and Canada, as well as to federal prosecutors. He added that there was no evidence of any other alleged victims of Dupre or that church officials were aware of the allegations before they became public in January.
R. Michael Cassidy, a Boston College law professor and former prosecutor, said it was "highly unusual, but not unprecedented" for a district attorney not to prosecute after a grand jury indictment.
"Discretion is always with the prosecutor, as long as the dismissal is not contrary to the manifest interests of justice," he said.
Since Bishop Timothy McDonnell replaced Dupre in April as head of the 262,000-member Catholic community, church officials have reached settlements totaling about $7.5 million with 46 abuse victims.
At least 11 U.S. bishops have resigned since 1990 in the context of sex scandals, four of whom were facing accusations of personal misconduct involving minors. Prosecutors did not pursue charges in any of those cases, largely because of statutes of limitation. Several bishops have been accused of abuse in civil cases.