New Revelations in Priest-Abuse Case

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press
May 6, 2008

The Rev. Edward Paquette was suspended from parish work by the Fall River, Mass., diocese early in his career after police found him parked in a car with a boy, a jury at a clergy sex abuse trial was told today.

"He had been picked up by the police while parked with a teen-age boy," the Rev. Timothy O'Connor of Westfield, Mass., wrote in a letter to an Indiana bishop in 1963 who was thinking of hiring Paquette. "He was held at the station until the arrival of his pastor, but was not booked."

The letter was among a number of confidential documents made public for the first time today during questioning of Vermont diocesan officials by Jerome O'Neill, the attorney for a former Burlington altar boy who has sued the diocese on claims he was molested by Paquette between 1976 and 1978.

The Free Press does not disclose the identities of alleged victims of sexual crimes without their consent.

The former altar boy, now 40, contends Paquette groped him between 40 and 100 times at Christ the King Church in Burlington and contends the diocese is liable for damages because it failed to properly supervise Paquette. The man now lives in Lakewood, Colo.

The pending case is one of 19 lawsuits that have been filed against the Vermont diocese involving claims Paquette molested boys in parishes in Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington.

The diocese does not dispute molestation claims but contends it should not be blamed now for incidents that occurred 30 years ago. It also argues the lawsuit should have been filed years ago. Paquette, who lives in Westfield, Mass., is not a defendant in the case.

O'Neill spent this afternoon going over the previously secret documents in an attempt to show the diocese did not do a thorough background check of Paquette before hiring him in 1972.

"Are you aware that the reason why the Burlington diocese did not have this information is because it did not ask the Fall River diocese for any information," O'Neill asked former Vicar General Wendell Searles.

"I was not aware of that," Searles answered.

Diocesan lawyers Tom McCormick and Kaveh Shahi raised few objections to O'Neill's introduction of the documents or his questioning of Searles.

During a break in the trial, McCormick said the newly revealed documents show the Vermont diocese was kept in the dark about parts of Paquette's past.

"It definitely appears that they didn't provide everything they had," McCormick said, referring to what the Indiana diocese disclosed to then Bishop John Marshall when the Vermont diocese was deciding whether to hire Paquette.

The documents shown to the jury today also revealed new details about alleged misconduct by Paquette in Indiana, where he worked for seven years before the Fort Wayne diocese placed him on suspension for alleged "homosexual" conduct with boys.

At one point, O'Neill had Searles read a letter from an Indiana woman who had written to church officials about Paquette's conduct with her son, a 13-year-old altar boy.

"He told me about three different times he had been asked by Father Paquette to do immoral acts," she said, describing what her son reluctantly told her. "Father kept saying 'Trust in me. God make allowances for this because of medical reasons.'"

O'Neill also displayed documents that indicated five dioceses had separately decided not to hire Paquette in late 1971 after the Fort Wayne bishop gave them the same warnings about Paquette's background that were provided to Bishop John Marshall in Burlington. Marshall, the documents showed, decided to employ Paquette despite the concerns.

Marshall, who was bishop of the Vermont diocese between 1972 and 1992, died in 1994.

O'Neill said the new set of documents became available to him in January after the diocese's insurance provider obtained them during the pre-trial stage of a separate lawsuit in federal court between the insurer and the diocese involving an insurance coverage dispute.

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at


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