Past Still Haunts Accused Priest

By Bill Zajac
The [Springfield MA] Republican
February 27, 2005

[ has added links to the publicly filed documents referenced in this article. For links to additional documents, see Diocese Settles Priest Abuse Case for $965,000, by Sam Hemingway, Burlington Free Press (4/20/06); and Letters Detail Charges of Abuse by Priest, by Bill Zajac, The Republican (7/3/06).]

Westfield - Two houses away from the school bus stop at Belleview Drive and Montgomery Road in Westfield, the Rev. Edward O. Paquette Jr. lives in a small, ranch-style home with his dog.

To his neighbors, Paquette is a friendly man who keeps to himself. Many neighbors only see him when he walks his black Labrador in the morning.

But to a prosecutor, a retired police officer and dozens of former parishioners in three states, he's the priest who broke a sacred trust and escaped criminal prosecution for alleged sexual assaults on young boys.

Paquette, 77, was removed from ministry in 1963 after allegations arose in the Fall River diocese that he sexually molested boys. But the Catholic priest went on to serve in Indiana and Vermont before his permanent removal from ministry in 1978.

The Vermont bishop who removed him from ministry for the final time - the late John A. Marshall - would later become bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield amid a clergy abuse scandal here.

Paquette is named in two sexual abuse lawsuits filed against him and the Diocese of Burlington, Vt. In the 1990s, claims were filed with the Diocese of Fall River by a multitude of men saying they were sexually abused as minors by Paquette.

Also, Paquette was accused of sexual misconduct with boys when he served in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., between 1964 and 1971, according to a diocesan release. Officials there would not say how many allegations were made, and said they don't know the identity of Paquette's accusers.

"He was doing it with virtually every altar boy he could get his hands on," said Jerome F. O'Neill, the Vermont lawyer who represents the two men who filed suits last year in Vermont alleging they were abused as minors by Paquette.

O'Neill said Paquette may have molested hundreds of boys. Although he was named by the Bristol County district attorney as one of 21 priests accused of sexually abusing boys, Paquette has never been criminally prosecuted because the alleged crimes fell outside the statute of limitations.

Today, Paquette continues to live in the home his late parents built in 1956 on Belleview Drive, a mile or so from Westfield High School in one of the more rural neighborhoods of Westfield.

Contacted by phone at his residence, Paquette first refused to comment, then said, "You've got the wrong Ed Paquette." However, the Edward Paquette reached at the same number in November by Burlington Free Press reporter Sam Hemingway said the claims against him in Vermont were false.

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

The question of mistaken identity came up in 2002 when Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. identified Paquette as one of 21 priests who allegedly molested children.

However, before Walsh posted the names of the 21 priests on his Web site, he accused church officials of trying to impede him.

In one instance, Fall River diocesan officials told Bristol County investigators that Paquette was dead. They provided a death certificate to prove it.

The death certificate was for Paquette's father, also Edward O. Paquette. The elder Paquette died in 1996 at age 90. Diocesan spokesman John E. Kearns Jr. said it was a misunderstanding that was soon corrected.

Paquette has not held a job in the 26 years since last serving as a priest, said a relative who didn't want to be identified. The relative said Paquette still sometimes wears a Roman collar.

"When he returned home in the 1970s, it was under the pretext that he was caring for his parents," said the relative.

One alleged victim from Fall River said in a claim filed with the diocese that he was brought to Paquette's Westfield family home, where Paquette initiated sexual abuse that continued weekly for three years in the 1960s. Westfield police said no one has ever filed a criminal complaint with them accusing Paquette of sexual abuse.

But Thomas J. Carroll, head of child abuse investigations in Bristol County, said he recently investigated 1960s allegations.

"We had numerous people who came forward and said they were assaulted by Paquette. All the allegations fell outside the statute of limitations," he said. Carroll interviewed Paquette, who admitted he had a problem, Carroll said.

"I ran some specific allegations by him - names and places. He had no idea who they were, but admitted he abused children," Carroll said.

Paquette told the Burlington Free Press that he told Carroll that he "only improperly touched one or two boys."

Paquette is representing himself in the Vermont suits, according to court documents that included his home phone number. Those documents indicated church officials knew Paquette had a problem in the 1960s, when his bishop in Fall River was reluctant to provide him with a recommendation to work elsewhere.

"If you choose to give the man a trial, it would be well to keep him out of responsibility for young people, especially boys," Bishop James L. Connolly wrote Jan. 18, 1963, to the bishop of Wheeling, W.Va., where Paquette was seeking work.

At the time, Paquette was being counseled by the Rev. Timothy F. O'Connor, pastor of Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Westfield, according to court documents.

According to Springfield Diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont, Paquette was never authorized to serve as a priest in the Springfield diocese.

However, according to a 1963 letter by Paquette's Westfield pastor, O'Connor consulted then-Springfield Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, and Paquette was assigned to Masses at a "sisters institution." The letter was filed in court in connection with the Vermont suits. O'Connor recommended that Paquette be incardinated, or permanently assigned a job in a diocese.

At the time, Paquette was seeking help from psychiatrist Frederick Rosenheim of Boston and a spiritual counselor at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, according to court documents.

"Doctor Rosenheim favored my going to Florida. He said that I have curbed my tendencies on my 'problem,' and that it would be better for me to be back working in a parish assignment," Paquette wrote to Connolly on Oct. 22, 1963.

Rosenheim wrote to a Fall River church official that "Paquette is not concerned with the psychological aspect of his problem of homosexuality," according to court records.

Paquette served in Fall River beginning in 1957, after growing up in Westfield. There is no indication in his records why he began his career in Fall River and not the Springfield diocese, according to the Fall River diocesan spokesman.

After several parish assignments in the Fall River diocese, Paquette was accused of abuse by more than a dozen minors. However, Clovis A. "Toby" Gauthier, the New Bedford police officer who investigated the accusations in the 1960s, was never able to persuade their parents to press charges.

When Gauthier gathered 12 families from St. Kilian's Parish to discuss the abuse, the parents were more interested in protecting Paquette than their children, Gauthier said recently.

"One husband and wife said that they were involved in the church, and if they made the accusations, they might as well pack their bags and move out of town," Gauthier said.

He said Paquette was well respected and earned a reputation for being a strong fund-raiser.

"I told them if they didn't bring charges, this would not be the end of it. And it wasn't," said Gauthier, who subsequently learned Paquette was accused of sexual abuse elsewhere.

Gauthier, realizing his "nice-guy approach" wasn't working, tried to get tough with the parents, telling them details of the abuse Paquette was allegedly inflicting on their children. "One mother responded, 'Do you know how lonely the life of a priest is?' I couldn't believe it. I said, 'Are you kidding me!'" recalled Gauthier, who is retired.

One alleged Paquette victim, who filed a complaint with the Diocese of Fall River in 1995, said Paquette brought him to the priest's family home in Westfield one weekend when Paquette's parents were away, according to court records. The alleged victim recalled waking up to find Paquette, clad only in a T-shirt, molesting him.

The abuse also occurred in St. Kilian's rectory and church, Paquette's car and a movie theater in New Bedford, according to a court-recorded complaint that had the alleged victim's name redacted. The alleged victim's lawyer, Michael P. Flammia of Boston law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC, didn't return several calls seeking comment.

On one occasion, Paquette removed the boy from class to molest him, according to court records. He allegedly told the boy he had a medical condition that could only be eased if the boy shared his body warmth.

Another alleged sexual abuse victim of Paquette's was found dead in a pond in the late 1990s after filing a complaint with the Diocese of Fall River alleging sexual abuse by Paquette when the alleged victim was a minor, according to the complaint that was included in documents filed in court in the Vermont suits. The complaint didn't list an exact cause of death. The alleged victim's name was redacted.

"Sadly, (name redacted) was struggling enormously this past year with his alcohol addiction after having it under control for some time. This was clearly connected to his distress from dealing with his abuse by Father Paquette," the complaint stated.

The complaint was initiated by the alleged victim but was unresolved at the time of the man's death. The man's widow pressed to settle the case without litigation, according to a letter sent by the alleged victim's lawyer to the Fall River diocese.

It is unclear if the claim was settled. The lawyer, Laurence E. Hardoon of Boston, didn't return requests for comment.

The man was allegedly abused beginning in the late 1950s at around age 10 when Paquette was assigned to St. Mary's Parish in Mansfield, according to court documents.

After one alleged incidence of sexual abuse, Paquette apologized to the victim and said he "had overwhelming Satanic thoughts," according to Hardoon's letter to the diocese.

"He (Rev. Paquette) told (redacted name) he could never tell anyone because God would hate him and he would never be forgiven," the letter stated.

"Subsequently, (name redacted) told his parents that Father Paquette was gay and tried to tell them what happened. They did not believe him and his father was violent towards him while berating him for saying such a thing about a priest."

While some parents failed to take action, the Fall River bishop ultimately did in 1963.

"For reasons of a most grave nature and the attending scandal, I am bound to notify you, by these presents, that you no longer possess faculties in the Diocese of Fall River," Connolly wrote to Paquette on Jan. 18, 1963. "You must certainly appreciate the fact that you are liable to prosecution, under the Laws of Massachusetts. Such a thing, should it happen, could only result in your loss of all possibility for priestly ministry."

Two years later, Paquette began working in the Diocese of Fort Wayne, Ind., even though Connolly expressed concerns about Paquette to the Most Rev. Leo A. Pursley, bishop of the Fort Wayne diocese.

"If he has honestly told you his story, you will recognize it as serious with inevitable scandal," Connolly wrote to Pursley.

According to letters contained in court records, Pursley wrote back, "I have decided after much prayerful deliberation and a long interview with the Rev. Edward O. Paquette to incardinate him for service."

Paquette worked in four Fort Wayne parishes, each of which had a school connected with it.

After seven years in the Fort Wayne Diocese, Paquette was told by diocesan officials he was no longer needed there.

"Diocesan files indicate that allegations of Fr. Paquette engaging in sexual misconduct with boys were received by the diocese during Fr. Paquette's time of service from 1964 to 1971," read a Fort Wayne diocesan statement in November.

The Republican could not determine if any civil suits were filed against Paquette in Indiana. Diocesan officials said they didn't know of any.

The year after involuntarily leaving Fort Wayne in 1971, Paquette began working in the Diocese of Burlington.

Burlington diocesan lawyer William M. O'Brien refused comment on whether the diocese was aware of Paquette's alleged abuse when it accepted him to work there in 1972.

Again, allegations of abuse by Paquette surfaced.

In 1978, six years after beginning his first assignment in Vermont, Marshall, the bishop of the Burlington diocese, barred Paquette from priesthood there, according to O'Brien.

Marshall became bishop of the Springfield diocese as then-Rev. Richard R. Lavigne faced sexual abuse allegations in 1992. Marshall died two years later after removing Lavigne from ministry. Lavigne, who was defrocked in 2003, admitted to molesting two boys and was the chief suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of an altar boy.

Paquette has never been defrocked, the action the Vatican takes when returning a priest to the status of a lay person.

Although Paquette appeared to be living a quiet life, his past continues to be the subject of criminal and civil scrutiny.

Both of the men suing the Vermont diocese say he abused them in the 1970s when they were altar boys. Neither wanted to be interviewed. One doesn't want to be identified publicly; the other is Michael Gay, 36, of South Burlington.

Although Paquette apparently has not worked in two decades, one neighbor said a fellow parishioner at Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament Church left him an inheritance.

Another neighbor, Wanda Sokolowski, said Paquette is a good, friendly neighbor and that none of the neighbors knew of his past. "He's very pleasant, always waves when he's outside," Sokolowski said.


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