|Ex-Priest Apologizes for Abuse
'It's Hard to Explain Why I Did It,' Paquette Says
By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press
September 27, 2009
WESTFIELD, Mass. — Edward Paquette, the former priest accused in 23 lawsuits of molesting altar boys in Vermont during the 1970s, says he's sorry about what he did and prays daily for the families of the people he harmed.
"I'm very apologetic and I'm very sorry," he said during an exclusive interview with The Burlington Free Press at his western Massachusetts home. "I get help from God to help me get through this. I feel sorry for the people and the families who have been hurt through this."
Paquette, 80, said that "through prayer" he now understands what he did was wrong. He said his 1978 banishment by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington following complaints about his conduct with altar boys also made him confront his conduct.
"I think that's why I haven't been in any circumstance or situation all these years, because I understand it and I regret it and I try to keep myself above water by being regretful," he said.
The interview with Paquette was brokered by Ron Paquette, 61, of Westfield, Mass., Edward Paquette's first cousin. During the interview, Edward Paquette also acknowledged he had molested his cousin in the late 1950s and apologized to him.
Paquette said because of the ongoing civil lawsuits regarding the diocese's handling of his conduct with altar boys in Vermont, he is barred from talking about the litigation. He is not a defendant in the cases, one of which is scheduled to go to trial this week.
"I'm under advice not to talk about it," he said. "The bishop and the lawyers have told me I shouldn't be giving any kind of information" about the cases.
Paquette did say that only in the years since the incidents with the altar boys in Vermont has he come to understand the harm he caused.
"If what I know now I knew back then, all of this would have been avoided ... but I was blinded," he said. "It's hard to explain why I did it. I don't know."
Abuse goes back 50 years
According to papers on file at Chittenden Superior Court in Burlington, Paquette began molesting boys at parishes in Mansfield and New Bedford, Mass., possibly as early as 1955.
Ron Paquette said his molestation by his cousin occurred in 1958 or 1959 at the Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament Church in Westfield, Mass., before a private service that Edward Paquette, then a newly ordained priest, was to conduct for family members. The church was torn down a year ago.
Ron Paquette said the abuse took place when he and a relative, another pre-teen boy, were in the church sacristy as altar boys and were standing to the left and right of Paquette as he was going through various priestly rituals before the service.
"He grabbed me and (the relative) in the crotch at the same time," Ron Paquette said in an interview. "At first, I thought it had to be a mistake."
He said he and the relative looked at each other in disbelief, but said nothing and went through with the family service. Ron Paquette said he later told his parents what happened, but did not know what they did with the information.
His family largely steered clear of Edward Paquette over the years. Ron Paquette said he had barely spoken to his cousin in 50 years — until last week.
"I was afraid to reach out," Edward Paquette told Ron Paquette during the interview. "I didn't know if you would accept my apology."
In 1963, court records show Edward Paquette was suspended by the Fall River diocese after police found him in a parked car with a teenage boy. After undergoing psychiatric treatment in Boston, Paquette was transferred to the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese in Indiana in 1964.
In 1971, he was accused of molesting boys at three Indiana parishes over a six-year period and was ordered to undergo electric-shock therapy to treat what was then diagnosed as "this sickness of homosexuality."
Convinced Paquette was cured, then-Vermont Bishop John Marshall hired Paquette in 1972 and assigned him to a Rutland parish.
When Paquette was accused of sexually molesting boys in Rutland two years later, he was transferred to Montpelier and then Burlington. The diocese has not disputed claims he molested altar boys during both assignments.
The first civil lawsuit alleging child molestation by Paquette was filed in 2004 by Michael Gay of South Burlington. Gay settled his case for $965,000 in 2006 just hours before the case was supposed to go to trial.
Two subsequent trials in cases brought by other alleged Paquette victims resulted in verdicts against the diocese of $8.75 million and $3.6 million. Another Paquette case ended in a mistrial.
Paquette has not attended or testified at any of the trials and is not a defendant in the cases, in part because he is not in a position to pay monetary damages or even for a lawyer to represent him.
"I feel badly about that but there's nothing I can do," he said. "I don't have the finances to help."
A moral problem
In his interview last week, Paquette said the church in the 1960s and 1970s perceived his conduct as a moral problem, not a legal problem, and that is why it had him undergo treatment and transfers to other parishes, rather than fire him or take more punitive action.
"That's another reason why everything was hush-hush back then," he said. "The attitude of the people and the priests and the civil law have changed since then."
He said the psychiatric help he got at the time, including the shock therapy, helped him temporarily, but that he was unable to control the impulse to engage in the conduct with altar boys that his victims have said earned him the nickname "Father Pockets."
In retrospect, Paquette said the Vermont diocese should have assigned him to a job that did not put him in a position where he might repeat his behavior. It was a strategy the Indiana diocese had suggested to the Vermont diocese, but the idea was not pursued.
"I probably should have been a chaplain for a nursing home or something of that nature," he said. "I wish that had been done."
Paquette said his 1978 banishment to his parents' home in Westfield was a turning point in his life.
"At the time I came back here, my father had had a stroke and was paralyzed on one side, and my mother was in early stages of Alzheimer's," he said. "I was busy taking care of them and that helped me get over what I did do and ease the pain of what I did do."
His parents have since died, but Paquette still lives in the modest, one-story ranch home with his dog, Skeezix II, named after a character from a Depression-era cartoon strip.
He said he spends his days visiting elderly relatives and shut-ins and his evenings reading, watching television or composing letters to friends and relatives on a manual typewriter he keeps on a table in his kitchen.
His living room mantelpiece features an array of family photographs. There is a portrait of Jesus on a wall, across the room from a picture window with a drawing of an American flag taped to it, facing out toward the street of the quiet, rural neighborhood.
Paquette, who declined to be photographed, said shortened versions of stories about the ongoing cases in Vermont sometimes show up in the local newspaper and that his neighbors know about his past.
"I have lifelong friends who have been supportive," he said. "My neighbors have been supportive. They all know. They read the paper. They've said that outside of that, I've been a good friend and good neighbor."
He said having his career as a priest shortened has been painful because "it's the only thing I know. ... That's what hurts, but it's my own fault, my own punishment."
He admitted, however, that he continued wearing the Roman collar during some of his interactions with people for years after his return to Massachusetts, despite formally having his priestly faculties suspended by the Vermont diocese in the 1970s.
"I thought in my own mind that I could still do that because I was a priest," he said. "I felt an obligation to these people." He said he was devastated after receiving notice in April that he had finally been laicized, or defrocked, by the Vatican.
"The feeling was as if the world had ended," he said.
Ron Paquette said it was good to hear his cousin apologize for molesting him, but he said he left the interview last week unconvinced about how repentant Edward Paquette really was.
"I mean, has he really been punished?" Ron Paquette said. "I don't know. I still think he got away with it."
Gay, the most vocal of the Burlington altar boy victims of Paquette's abuse, said he isn't sure what to think of Paquette's apology.
"Maybe he is being reflective and is apologetic, but he's done so much damage," Gay said. "I'm still not healing."
Gay also said the Paquette cases at this point are more about what the diocese did than what Paquette did.
"The diocese is still fighting this tooth and nail," he said. "I've got to testify again at this next trial. It doesn't matter that Paquette says he's sorry. There's still a war going on here. ... Maybe when the battle's over, we can shake hands."
Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To get Free Press headlines delivered free to your e-mail, sign up at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/newsletters.
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