updated 9/27/2004 5:20:07 PM ET 2004-09-27T21:20:07

A district attorney said Monday 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 Monday 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.

Grand jury indictment
The indictment was handed up by a grand jury Friday and unsealed Monday 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.

Indictment alleges 1976 rape
“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.

Whereabouts unknown
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 Monday 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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