|Diocese Settles Priest Molestation Case for $170,000
By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press
February 9, 2008
The state's Roman Catholic diocese agreed Friday to pay $170,000 to settle another lawsuit involving claims it was responsible for the long-ago molestation of a child by a parish priest.
The deal, reached late Friday afternoon, came three days before a trial was set to begin in Burlington in the case of John Perrotte, 41, of South Hero. He claimed the diocese was to blame for his 1980 molestation in Milton at the hands of the Rev. Alfred Willis.
"Bishop Salvatore Matano deeply regrets any hurt that John Perrotte has experienced because of the actions of Alfred Willis," the diocese said in a statement released by church lawyer Kavi Shahi. "The Bishop sincerely prays for John Perrotte and all victims of sexual abuse."
Perrotte was unavailable for comment. His lawyer, Jerome O'Neill, said Perrotte had sought an apology from the diocese for its role in his abuse as part of the settlement and had objected to the statement issued by Matano.
"He was frustrated that the diocese was unwilling to take responsibility for what it did to put Willis in position to molest him, but he is relieved to have all this behind him," O'Neill said.
Shahi said it was unfortunate that Perrotte had rejected the bishop's statement, which contains nearly the same language as a letter Matano offered to Perrotte. "It was an expression that was positive and looked to the future as well as an expression of sympathy," Shahi said.
Matano, in his statement, also said he hopes to meet with Perrotte someday and that he regretted but understood Perrotte's "estrangement" from the church. "Bishop Matano hopes that Mr. Perrotte will not give up on the Lord," the statement said in part.
According to court papers, Willis was assigned to St. Ann Church in Milton in 1979 and was removed from the parish in 1980 after parents complained to church officials and the Chittenden County state's attorney about Willis' sexual conduct with boys.
Internal church records on file at Chittenden Superior Court show that then-Bishop John Marshall knew about Willis' past conduct with boys at St. Anthony Church in Burlington when Willis was assigned to St. Ann Church in Milton.
The documents also show that Marshall did not tell the Milton parish or its head priest, the Rev. Phillip LaMothe, about Willis' past until angry parents learned about the Burlington incidents and took their complaints to LaMothe and prosecutors.
Perrotte sued the diocese and Willis in 2004 claiming the molestation had caused him lifelong problems. The diocese, in papers filed with the court, said it does not dispute Perrotte's abuse allegations.
Willis, who was defrocked in the 1980s and now lives in Virginia, settled separately with Perrotte for what his lawyers said was a "modest amount" of money last month.
According to a court deposition -- a pretrial interview conducted under oath -- Perrotte said he was 13 when he met Willis in 1979 after Willis was introduced to Perrotte and his family by LaMothe.
Perrotte recalled that in 1980, Willis offered to help him look for some newspaper route money after the boy discovered he had dropped it in his Milton neighborhood. During the search, he said Willis asked him for a kiss.
"I gave him a kiss on the cheek as I had done my father," Perrotte said in the deposition. "Then he told me it's OK to show your emotions and like that, and kissed (me) on the lips; he pulled me closer to him."
Several weeks later, Willis attended a party at the Perrotte home to celebrate Perrotte's 14th birthday. After dinner, he said Willis suggested he sleep overnight with Perrotte in a tent that Perrotte had been given as a present.
"We were in the tent, and he was on my left side as I was laying on my back," Perrotte said in the deposition. "We held hands. Started out down by my right leg. Then went, hands went to touching my leg, hands on top of my leg, to his hand on my groin."
Willis' fondling caused the young Perrotte to become sexually aroused, he recounted. Willis then asked him if he was "comfortable with this" and when Perrotte said he wasn't, Willis moved his hand away and the fondling ended, the deposition said.
Friday's settlement is the fifth made by the diocese since 2002 in cases involving claims that priests employed by the diocese had molested children. The largest settlement, in 2006, was for $965,000.
One case, also involving claims of molestation by Willis, went to trial last year. In that case, James Turner of Virginia Beach, Va., won a $15,000 jury award after a five-day trial. The case is under appeal.
There remain 24 lawsuits pending against the diocese. All but one involve claims of long-ago molestation of children by parish priests.
The one exception involves the latest case, filed last month against the diocese and the Rev. Stephen Nichols of Lyndonville by a former parishioner who claims he was fondled by Nichols in 2005 when the alleged victim was 18 years old.
Nichols, 47, was charged criminally in connection with the incident and last year agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of engaging in a lewd act and serve 30 days in prison. The diocese also suspended Nichols' from performing his priestly duties.
Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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