Diocese Working to Settle Abuse Lawsuit

Associated Press State & Local Wire
September 28, 2003

Vermont's Roman Catholic Church is working to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who is charging he was abused as a teenager by a priest in the late 1980s.

Paul Babeu, a 34-year-old former Massachusetts man, says he was 15 when the Rev. George Paulin, most recently a Ludlow pastor before resigning this year, abused him on an overnight visit to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

Babeu, now of Arizona, filed his lawsuit against the priest and the diocese last December. After taking initial testimony, the diocese started settlement talks with Babeu's lawyer, Thomas Bixby of Brattleboro.

"We are in negotiations with the Burlington Diocese," Bixby told the Rutland Herald.

The diocese's lawyer, William M. O'Brien of Winooski, said he hoped the church could move on to settle at least three other lawsuits.

"We are anxious to resolve every case," O'Brien said, "but that has to do a lot with the plaintiffs' expectations and demands."

The Diocese of Burlington doesn't have insurance for such cases, so it will have to be able to pay for any settlements with resources on hand.

The diocese has about $23.4 million in assets, which doesn't include property held by individual parishes, according to a 2002 audit.

The New Yorker magazine reported last year that former Massachusetts priest Richard Lavigne, a convicted child molester, drove Babeu to Vermont to leave him alone with Paulin.

Babeu said that family members reported the incident to then-Vermont Catholic Bishop John Marshall, who responded in a letter to them dated March 13, 1987: "I was disappointed and disturbed in learning about the allegations against" Paulin, "inasmuch as I have never heard any rumor, innuendo or complaint directly or indirectly that would indicate that he possessed pedophilic tendencies."

Babeu heard nothing more for 16 years. Then Vermont's Catholic diocese said last year it was placing Paulin on leave at the same time the state attorney general's office began investigating decades of alleged priest misconduct.

Babeu has filed a separate lawsuit in Massachusetts against Lavigne and the diocese there. By settling in Vermont, the Diocese of Burlington would face one fewer high-profile case and Babeu could focus more on charges he is making in his home state.

The Archdiocese of Boston recently reached a tentative agreement with more than 500 accusers for a record $85 million, causing some to question if that settlement would spark others.


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