A Survivor's Story: Man molested by Rutland priest speaks out
By Gordon Dritschilo
September 07, 2019
Editor’s note: A recent report issued by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vermont listed 40 members of the clergy who had been accused of sex abuse and also served in parishes around Vermont during the past 50 or so years. Our ongoing coverage of the fallout of that long-awaited report and the years of abuse across the state, will include occasional stories of victims.
Dan Gilman said he was already at one of the lowest points in his life when he was molested by his now-defrocked priest, Edward Paquette.
“I had broken my neck in July 1972,” said Gilman, now 62. “I dove into an above-ground swimming pool ... broke my neck at the C4 level and was instantly paralyzed from the shoulders down. I was 15 at the time.”
Gilman said everyone at Rutland Regional Medical Center told him he wouldn’t get out anytime soon, and he overheard a doctor saying his life expectancy was only nine years.
“I just shut down mentally,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, Father Paquette waltzes into my life a week or so later.”
The priest gave Gilman communion, Gilman said, and told him that God could heal his injuries.
“The abuse started at the hospital while I was in traction — in bed with with weights attached to my skull,” he said. “He took credit for each little improvement and lack of pain that happened with the little rituals he did. ... I fell for it hook, line and sinker.”
Gilman said Paquette molested him from August 1972 to October 1974, continuing to visit him when he moved home from the hospital. Then, one day, Paquette stopped coming. Gilman said nobody told him why.
On a day Paquette was supposed to come, Gilman said he was visited by a different priest, who proclaimed that he would heal Gilman by squeezing his neck near where his neck was broken and told the teen that he had not gotten better because he lacked faith. Gilman said that priest scared him so much his mother called the rectory and told them not to send any more.
Years later, Gilman said he learned that hospital staff had walked in on Paquette molesting two other patients. If the hospital made any effort to find other victims, Gilman said, nobody spoke to him. Offered a chance to comment, present-day hospital spokeswoman Peg Bolgioni issued a statement reading, “We feel compassion for all victims of sexual abuse and have no further information to offer on this incident other than what was reported in the Rutland Herald on April 23, 2006.”
Gilman said the abuse was a secret he would keep for decades. Gilman said he was worried the abuse had made him a homosexual, and that the stigma about homosexuality drove him to keep it quiet. He said he feared his friends would scorn him.
“They did anyway,” he said. “Being in a wheelchair, paralyzed — what are you going to say to a person without making them uncomfortable?”
In 2002, Gilman met his fiancé, Meredith Kelley, in an online chatroom. “He was sweet,” she said. “He was funny.”
So sweet and funny, she said, that after a month and a half of chatting, she moved from North Carolina to Vermont to be with him. She noticed how Paquette would send Gilman cards and letters on holidays, and she noticed how it would enrage Gilman.
One day, around 2007, Gilman got out the journal he had kept during his teenage years, in which he had written about the abuse.
“I had Meredith read it,” he said. “Everything that happened was in it. I couldn’t tell her. I had to have her read it.”
A couple of years later, Gilman said his anger issues were triggered by an incident with a coworker, and he started seeing a counselor. This led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and a referral to a specialist.
“I went to a mental health specialist at Rutland Regional Medical Center,” he said. “My past history — I dreaded being there to begin with. Even today, someone says you have to go to Rutland Regional, I get a tightness in my chest.”
That didn’t work out — Gilman said there were issues aside from the location — but he went on to see a different counselor with whom he has had good results.
“Having a trusting counselor is what opened the floodgates,” he said.
Gilman said he was working for a state program that helped people with disabilities, and that he became upset when he found out they might take on pedophiles as clients. His refusal to work with a hypothetical disabled pedophile, he said, ultimately led to him being placed on disability for his PTSD.
“Even to this day, I get into a hyper-vigilance mode,” he said. “If I’m in an area with children, I’m looking at the people looking at the children. ... I can’t go to big events without being on the lookout.”
The year he went on disability, Gilman said he discovered zentango, with which he makes pictures by drawing line after line after line with an extremely fine-nibbed pen.
“It’s a form of meditation,” he said. “I started doing it and doing it, and doing it. When I’m doing artwork, I’m not thinking about other stuff. ... Now, I’m doing objects, I’m painting gourds, dried gourds, and creating a village of dried gourds.”
Gilman said he knows he is not the only survivor in Rutland, because he witnessed one other episode of abuse firsthand. Years before Paquette came to him in the hospital, Gilman said he served as an altar boy for William Gallagher.
Gilman said he remembered Gallagher creeped him out, and the feeling was vindicated when he walked in on Gallagher abusing one of the other altar boys. Gilman said he ran away, and that he still has dreams about running away from the incident.
“How many people are out there like me with anger, drugs, suicide, whatever, who just couldn’t deal with it anymore?” he asked. “How many people are in jail?”
Gilman said he wants that victim — and all the other victims — to know that it’s OK to come forward.
“I started telling people about it openly in 2012 and not one negative ‘Why are you doing this to church’ comment has ever come out,” he said. “Right up to this day, nobody has come up to me and said ‘You shouldn’t have done this.’ It’s the total opposite.”
Paquette, described in the diocese report as still alive at the age of 90, could not be easily located for comment.
As part of its report, the diocese provided a list of resources victims can contact: