Past Still Haunts Accused Priest
By Bill Zajac
The [Springfield MA] Republican
February 27, 2005
[BishopAccountability.org has added links to the publicly filed documents
referenced in this article. For links to additional documents, see Diocese
Settles Priest Abuse Case for $965,000, by Sam Hemingway, Burlington
Free Press (4/20/06); and Letters
Detail Charges of Abuse by Priest, by Bill Zajac, The Republican (7/3/06).]
Westfield - Two houses away from the school bus stop at Belleview Drive
and Montgomery Road in Westfield, the Rev. Edward O. Paquette Jr. lives
in a small, ranch-style home with his dog.
To his neighbors, Paquette is a friendly man who keeps to himself. Many
neighbors only see him when he walks his black Labrador in the morning.
But to a prosecutor, a retired police officer and dozens of former parishioners
in three states, he's the priest who broke a sacred trust and escaped
criminal prosecution for alleged sexual assaults on young boys.
Paquette, 77, was removed from ministry in 1963 after allegations arose
in the Fall River diocese that he sexually molested boys. But the Catholic
priest went on to serve in Indiana and Vermont before his permanent removal
from ministry in 1978.
The Vermont bishop who removed him from ministry for the final time -
the late John A. Marshall - would later become bishop of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Springfield amid a clergy abuse scandal here.
Paquette is named in two sexual abuse lawsuits filed against him and the
Diocese of Burlington, Vt. In the 1990s, claims were filed with the Diocese
of Fall River by a multitude of men saying they were sexually abused as
minors by Paquette.
Also, Paquette was accused of sexual misconduct with boys when he served
in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., between 1964 and 1971,
according to a diocesan release. Officials there would not say how many
allegations were made, and said they don't know the identity of Paquette's
"He was doing it with virtually every altar boy he could get his
hands on," said Jerome F. O'Neill, the Vermont lawyer who represents
the two men who filed suits last year in Vermont alleging they were abused
as minors by Paquette.
O'Neill said Paquette may have molested hundreds of boys. Although he
was named by the Bristol County district attorney as one of 21 priests
accused of sexually abusing boys, Paquette has never been criminally prosecuted
because the alleged crimes fell outside the statute of limitations.
Today, Paquette continues to live in the home his late parents built in
1956 on Belleview Drive, a mile or so from Westfield High School in one
of the more rural neighborhoods of Westfield.
Contacted by phone at his residence, Paquette first refused to comment,
then said, "You've got the wrong Ed Paquette." However, the
Edward Paquette reached at the same number in November by Burlington Free
Press reporter Sam Hemingway said the claims against him in Vermont were
"I deny all the allegations until I talk to a lawyer. I'm innocent,"
The question of mistaken identity came up in 2002 when Bristol County
District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. identified Paquette as one of 21 priests
who allegedly molested children.
However, before Walsh posted the names of the 21 priests on his Web site,
he accused church officials of trying to impede him.
In one instance, Fall River diocesan officials told Bristol County investigators
that Paquette was dead. They provided a death certificate to prove it.
The death certificate was for Paquette's father, also Edward O. Paquette.
The elder Paquette died in 1996 at age 90. Diocesan spokesman John E.
Kearns Jr. said it was a misunderstanding that was soon corrected.
Paquette has not held a job in the 26 years since last serving as a priest,
said a relative who didn't want to be identified. The relative said Paquette
still sometimes wears a Roman collar.
"When he returned home in the 1970s, it was under the pretext that
he was caring for his parents," said the relative.
One alleged victim from Fall River said in a claim filed with the diocese
that he was brought to Paquette's Westfield family home, where Paquette
initiated sexual abuse that continued weekly for three years in the 1960s.
Westfield police said no one has ever filed a criminal complaint with
them accusing Paquette of sexual abuse.
But Thomas J. Carroll, head of child abuse investigations in Bristol County,
said he recently investigated 1960s allegations.
"We had numerous people who came forward and said they were assaulted
by Paquette. All the allegations fell outside the statute of limitations,"
he said. Carroll interviewed Paquette, who admitted he had a problem,
"I ran some specific allegations by him - names and places. He had
no idea who they were, but admitted he abused children," Carroll
Paquette told the Burlington Free Press that he told Carroll that he "only
improperly touched one or two boys."
Paquette is representing himself in the Vermont suits, according to court
documents that included his home phone number. Those documents indicated
church officials knew Paquette had a problem in the 1960s, when his bishop
in Fall River was reluctant to provide him with a recommendation to work
"If you choose to give the man a trial, it would be well to keep
him out of responsibility for young people, especially boys," Bishop
James L. Connolly wrote Jan. 18, 1963, to the bishop of Wheeling,
W.Va., where Paquette was seeking work.
At the time, Paquette was being counseled by the Rev. Timothy F. O'Connor,
pastor of Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Westfield, according
to court documents.
According to Springfield Diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont, Paquette was
never authorized to serve as a priest in the Springfield diocese.
However, according to a 1963 letter
by Paquette's Westfield pastor, O'Connor consulted then-Springfield
Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, and Paquette was assigned to Masses at a
"sisters institution." The letter was filed in court in connection
with the Vermont suits. O'Connor recommended that Paquette be incardinated,
or permanently assigned a job in a diocese.
At the time, Paquette was seeking help from psychiatrist Frederick Rosenheim
of Boston and a spiritual counselor at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, according
to court documents.
"Doctor Rosenheim favored my going to Florida. He said that I have
curbed my tendencies on my 'problem,' and that it would be better for
me to be back working in a parish assignment," Paquette
wrote to Connolly on Oct. 22, 1963.
wrote to a Fall River church official that "Paquette is not concerned
with the psychological aspect of his problem of homosexuality," according
to court records.
Paquette served in Fall River beginning in 1957, after growing up in Westfield.
There is no indication in his records why he began his career in Fall
River and not the Springfield diocese, according to the Fall River diocesan
After several parish assignments in the Fall River diocese, Paquette was
accused of abuse by more than a dozen minors. However, Clovis A. "Toby"
Gauthier, the New Bedford police officer who investigated the accusations
in the 1960s, was never able to persuade their parents to press charges.
When Gauthier gathered 12 families from St. Kilian's Parish to discuss
the abuse, the parents were more interested in protecting Paquette than
their children, Gauthier said recently.
"One husband and wife said that they were involved in the church,
and if they made the accusations, they might as well pack their bags and
move out of town," Gauthier said.
He said Paquette was well respected and earned a reputation for being
a strong fund-raiser.
"I told them if they didn't bring charges, this would not be the
end of it. And it wasn't," said Gauthier, who subsequently learned
Paquette was accused of sexual abuse elsewhere.
Gauthier, realizing his "nice-guy approach" wasn't working,
tried to get tough with the parents, telling them details of the abuse
Paquette was allegedly inflicting on their children. "One mother
responded, 'Do you know how lonely the life of a priest is?' I couldn't
believe it. I said, 'Are you kidding me!'" recalled Gauthier, who
One alleged Paquette victim, who filed a complaint with the Diocese of
Fall River in 1995, said Paquette brought him to the priest's family home
in Westfield one weekend when Paquette's parents were away, according
to court records. The alleged victim recalled waking up to find Paquette,
clad only in a T-shirt, molesting him.
The abuse also occurred in St. Kilian's rectory and church, Paquette's
car and a movie theater in New Bedford, according to a court-recorded
complaint that had the alleged victim's name redacted. The alleged
victim's lawyer, Michael P. Flammia of Boston law firm Eckert Seamans
Cherin & Mellott LLC, didn't return several calls seeking comment.
On one occasion, Paquette removed the boy from class to molest him, according
to court records. He allegedly told the boy he had a medical condition
that could only be eased if the boy shared his body warmth.
Another alleged sexual abuse victim of Paquette's was found dead in a
pond in the late 1990s after filing a complaint with the Diocese of Fall
River alleging sexual abuse by Paquette when the alleged victim was a
minor, according to the complaint
that was included in documents filed in court in the Vermont suits.
The complaint didn't list an exact cause of death. The alleged victim's
name was redacted.
"Sadly, (name redacted) was struggling enormously this past year
with his alcohol addiction after having it under control for some time.
This was clearly connected to his distress from dealing with his abuse
by Father Paquette," the complaint stated.
The complaint was initiated by the alleged victim but was unresolved at
the time of the man's death. The man's widow pressed to settle the case
without litigation, according to a letter sent by the alleged victim's
lawyer to the Fall River diocese.
It is unclear if the claim was settled. The lawyer, Laurence E. Hardoon
of Boston, didn't return requests for comment.
The man was allegedly abused beginning in the late 1950s at around age
10 when Paquette was assigned to St. Mary's Parish in Mansfield, according
to court documents.
After one alleged incidence of sexual abuse, Paquette apologized to the
victim and said he "had overwhelming Satanic thoughts," according
to Hardoon's letter to the diocese.
"He (Rev. Paquette) told (redacted name) he could never tell anyone
because God would hate him and he would never be forgiven," the letter
"Subsequently, (name redacted) told his parents that Father Paquette
was gay and tried to tell them what happened. They did not believe him
and his father was violent towards him while berating him for saying such
a thing about a priest."
While some parents failed to take action, the Fall River bishop ultimately
did in 1963.
"For reasons of a most grave nature and the attending scandal, I
am bound to notify you, by these presents, that you no longer possess
faculties in the Diocese of Fall River," Connolly
wrote to Paquette on Jan. 18, 1963. "You must certainly appreciate
the fact that you are liable to prosecution, under the Laws of Massachusetts.
Such a thing, should it happen, could only result in your loss of all
possibility for priestly ministry."
Two years later, Paquette began working in the Diocese of Fort Wayne,
Ind., even though Connolly expressed concerns about Paquette to the Most
Rev. Leo A. Pursley, bishop of the Fort Wayne diocese.
"If he has honestly told you his story, you will recognize it as
serious with inevitable scandal," Connolly
wrote to Pursley.
According to letters contained in court records, Pursley wrote back, "I
have decided after much prayerful deliberation and a long interview with
the Rev. Edward O. Paquette to incardinate him for service."
Paquette worked in four Fort Wayne parishes, each of which had a school
connected with it.
After seven years in the Fort Wayne Diocese, Paquette was told by diocesan
officials he was no longer needed there.
"Diocesan files indicate that allegations of Fr. Paquette engaging
in sexual misconduct with boys were received by the diocese during Fr.
Paquette's time of service from 1964 to 1971," read a Fort Wayne
diocesan statement in November.
The Republican could not determine if any civil suits were filed against
Paquette in Indiana. Diocesan officials said they didn't know of any.
The year after involuntarily leaving Fort Wayne in 1971, Paquette began
working in the Diocese of Burlington.
Burlington diocesan lawyer William M. O'Brien refused comment on whether
the diocese was aware of Paquette's alleged abuse when it accepted him
to work there in 1972.
Again, allegations of abuse by Paquette surfaced.
In 1978, six years after beginning his first assignment in Vermont, Marshall,
the bishop of the Burlington diocese, barred Paquette from priesthood
there, according to O'Brien.
Marshall became bishop of the Springfield diocese as then-Rev. Richard
R. Lavigne faced sexual abuse allegations in 1992. Marshall died two years
later after removing Lavigne from ministry. Lavigne, who was defrocked
in 2003, admitted to molesting two boys and was the chief suspect in the
unsolved 1972 murder of an altar boy.
Paquette has never been defrocked, the action the Vatican takes when returning
a priest to the status of a lay person.
Although Paquette appeared to be living a quiet life, his past continues
to be the subject of criminal and civil scrutiny.
Both of the men suing the Vermont diocese say he abused them in the 1970s
when they were altar boys. Neither wanted to be interviewed. One doesn't
want to be identified publicly; the other is Michael Gay, 36, of South
Although Paquette apparently has not worked in two decades, one neighbor
said a fellow parishioner at Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament Church left
him an inheritance.
Another neighbor, Wanda Sokolowski, said Paquette is a good, friendly
neighbor and that none of the neighbors knew of his past. "He's very
pleasant, always waves when he's outside," Sokolowski said.