Church Faces More Sexual Abuse Suits

The Associated Press, carried in Times Argus [Burlington VT]
September 15, 2004

BURLINGTON After spending more than $400,000 to settle claims of sexual abuse by its priests in the last year, The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington faces at least two more lawsuits.

Lawyer Jerome O'Neill has filed civil cases against the statewide diocese; George Paulin, formerly a pastor in Ludlow; and Edward Paquette, formerly a priest in Burlington.

O'Neill, the chairman of the Burlington Police Commission, is filing a third case against a third unnamed priest, "and there are more coming, probably a half a dozen more," he said Monday.

O'Neill sparked the diocese this spring to settle a case against Alfred Willis, a former priest in Burlington, Milton and Montpelier, for $150,000 the largest such payment in state history and a lawsuit against former Rutland priest James McShane for $120,000.

In the first of O'Neill's latest cases, Neil Morrissette, 45, of Newport alleges that Paulin sexually abused him when he was a 13-year-old member of his hometown St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in 1971.

In another lawsuit filed against Paulin a year ago, the diocese settled out of court. Paulin was accused of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old boy when the priest was working in Troy in 1984.

Paulin could not be reached for comment. The Bennington Banner on Monday reported the former pastor was now a volunteer organist at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Arlington and the United Methodist Church in nearby Shaftsbury.

In the second of O'Neill's latest cases, client Michael Gay, 36, of South Burlington alleges that Paquette sexually abused him as an altar boy from age 10 to 12 at Christ the King Catholic Church in Burlington in 1977 and 1978.

Catholic Church lawyer David Cleary of Rutland confirmed the filing of the lawsuits, but limited further comment.

"We're obviously approaching them first from the perspective of verification," Cleary said.

Vermont's Catholic Church has spent more than $700,000 to deal with cases against its priests since 1950. The figure doesn't include more than $2 million spent for compensation, counseling and legal fees related to charges of child abuse by workers at the diocese's former St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington.

According to the Vermont diocese, at least 31 people have reported credible charges against 25 of its priests in the past five decades, with all alleged sexual misconduct occurring before 1989.

All but one of the clergy have died, resigned, retired or aren't allowed to minister publicly, the diocese has said. One priest was placed on leave and reinstated in 2002 after review by the Vermont attorney general's office.

The state hasn't charged anyone criminally because the claims found credible are too old to prosecute under various statutes of limitations.


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