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  Incidents Alleged to Have Occurred in 1970s

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press
November 18, 2004

A former priest at Christ the King Church in Burlington has been sued for a second time on claims he sexually molested an altar boy at the parish in the 1970s.

Edward Paquette, now retired and living in Westfield, Mass., is accused of engaging in "unpermitted, harmful and offensive sexual contact" with the youth.

Jerome O'Neill, the victim's attorney, said the abuse incidents occurred in 1977 and 1978. The Burlington Free Press is not publishing the person's name, following policy to protect the identity of alleged victims of sexual crimes.

Also named as a defendant in the case is the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. The lawsuit, which was filed in October but became public this week, contends the diocese knew Paquette as a priest had a history of molesting boys before it assigned him to the Christ the King parish.

Paquette, reached by telephone at his home, said the claims made against him in

the two Vermont cases are false.

"I deny all the allegations until I talk to a lawyer. I'm innocent," Paquette said.

Diocesan attorney William O'Brien declined comment on whether the diocese knew about Paquette's background before he arrived in Vermont. He said then-Bishop John Marshall stripped Paquette of his priestly duties in 1978, although he was not formally defrocked.

"The bishop took aggressive action and imposed the ultimate sanction you can impose on a priest, which was to ban him from the priesthood," O'Brien said.

The allegations in the new case, on file at Chittenden County Superior Court, are similar to those made by another former altar boy at Christ the King who filed a lawsuit against Paquette and the Vermont diocese this year.

Contained in court papers in the earlier case are copies of letters written by Massachusetts church officials in the 1960s that discuss Paquette's sexual conduct with young boys and what to do about it. Paquette served in the Mansfield and New Bedford, Mass., parishes.

"You must certainly appreciate the fact that you are liable to prosecution under the laws of Massachusetts," Bishop James Connolly of the Fall River, Mass., diocese wrote in a Jan. 18, 1963, letter to Paquette. No criminal charges were ever filed, however.

In another letter, the bishop answered an inquiry from a West Virginia diocese about Paquette's availability with a warning.

"If you choose to give the man a trial, it would be well to keep him out of responsibility for young people, boys especially," the undated letter said. Paquette eventually was transferred to an Indiana diocese, and joined the Burlington Diocese in 1972.

Tom Carroll, head of child abuse investigations for the Bristol County, Mass., District Attorney's Office, said he recently investigated the 1960s allegations against Paquette and has asked Paquette if they were true.

"Paquette was spoken to by me and he admitted to sexually assaulting young boys while stationed at the Mansfield parish," Carroll said. "He said he had no idea who they were or when these things happened."

Paquette, asked about Carroll's remark, said Carroll exaggerated what he had told him. "I told him I only improperly touched one or two boys," Paquette said.

Court papers in Burlington also include letters to the Fall River diocese from attorneys representing several former altar boys at the Massachusetts parishes. The letters, written between 1995 and 1998, contain graphic descriptions of Paquette's alleged sexual misconduct and seek financial damage awards. The allegations were settled out of court.

Carroll said as a result of his investigation, Paquette's name was included in a 2002 Bristol County district attorney's list of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse of children. The list is available publicly on the prosecutor's Web site.

 
 

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