Diocese Settles Priest Abuse Case for $965,000

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press
April 20, 2006

[Links to the diocesan documents referred to in this article were added by See also Letters Detail Charges of Abuse by Priest, by Bill Zajac, The [Springfield MA] Republican (7/3/06); and Past Still Haunts Accused Priest, by Bill Zajac, The Republican (2/27/05), both with additional links.]

The state's Roman Catholic diocese avoided a trial Wednesday on allegations it let a priest with a history of child abuse continue to molest altar boys in Burlington, settling a lawsuit brought by one of the victims for $965,000.

The settlement of claims involving conduct by former Rev. Edward Paquette was announced in Chittenden Superior Court, where the trial in the case brought by Michael Gay, 38, of South Burlington was to get under way Wednesday morning.

"He took away something that was very important to me," Gay said of Paquette after the announcement, dabbing his eyes as sat in a chair in the courtroom. "He took away something very important to me -- my childhood, my faith in God and religion."

Michael Gay hugs his wife, Cristine, after the announcement that his lawsuit against the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington had been settled out of court Wednesday at Chittenden Superior Court in Burlington.
Photo by the Glenn Russell, Free Press

Gay agreed to permit The Burlington Free Press to publish his name. The Free Press does not disclose the names of alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent.

Diocesan attorney David Cleary said the agreement to settle with Gay was made Tuesday night and had the approval of Bishop Salvatore Matano. Cleary said financial factors and a series of pre-trial rulings in the case that went against the church prompted the decision to agree to what is, by far, the largest such settlement in the diocese's history.

Michael Gay, as a child.
Contributed photo

"The element of cost to continue is catastrophic to the diocese," Cleary said. "We were put in a position to do our best by all concerned, and an amount was reached on that basis."

Church officials said in a statement later Wednesday the diocese would take out loans to pay the $965,000 to Gay. "No existing programs or charities will be affected and absolutely no Bishop's Fund monies will be used to satisfy this settlement," the statement said in part.

Rev. Edward Paquette
Contributed photo

As part of Wednesday's settlement, Gay agreed not to pursue a separate case against Paquette, who lives in Westfield, Mass., and is in poor health. In a 2004 interview with the Free Press, Paquette insisted he was innocent.

Pending against the diocese are 16 priest misconduct cases, 11 of them alleging molestation of other altar boys by Paquette in the late 1970s.

Harsh assessment

Gay's lawyer, Jerome O'Neill, said the diocese was as much to blame for Paquette's misconduct as Paquette himself, and offered a particularly harsh assessment of then-Bishop John Marshall's handling of abuse complaints involving Paquette.

"Nowhere, in any document, do you ever see Bishop Marshall express any concern for the boys," O'Neill said. "Every time, it's a concern for scandal, it's a concern for people not putting up with him ... In effect, what he was doing was providing Paquette with new victims." Marshall died in 1994.

Cleary conceded the diocese had failed to prevent the abuse Gay incurred but said it was relying on medical advice in a time when it was commonly believed that such sexually deviant behavior was curable.

O'Neill, speaking with reporters at the courthouse, pointed to a series of exhibits he had prepared for the jury as proof that the diocese was in denial about Paquette's conduct.

Most of the exhibits were copies of letters Marshall and other diocesan officials sent and received before or during Paquette's time in Vermont. The correspondence became public when Judge Ben Joseph, at O'Neill's request, agreed to unseal the documents and lift a gag Joseph had imposed in the case.

According to the documents, Paquette allegedly began molesting boys at parishes in Mansfield and New Bedford, Mass., possibly as early as 1955. He was removed from the parishes in 1963 and, after undergoing psychiatric treatment in Boston, was transferred to the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese in Indiana in 1964.

"I can hardly return him to active duty in this diocese," Bishop James Connolly of Fall River, Mass., wrote Bishop Leo Pursley of Indiana on Feb. 24, 1964. "However, it could quite be he has overcome his difficulty. I feel that you might help him, if you feel interested to try."

The Indiana diocese agreed to take Paquette, only to have him accused in 1971 of having molested boys at three Indiana parishes over six years. He was again ordered to undergo electric shock treatment.

In 1972, Paquette approached Marshall, hoping for an assignment in Vermont. When Marshall asked Pursley for his input, Pursley wrote back and suggested Paquette be placed in an "institutional chaplaincy" where there was "less likelihood of relapse."

Instead, Marshall assigned Paquette to the Christ the King Church in Rutland, on condition that he continue treatment under a psychiatrist. According to diocesan lawyer William O'Brien of Winooski, Marshall acted after receiving a letter from Hillenbrand recommending him for "any type of assignment ... including parish work."

Complaints continue

In 1974, the pastor in charge of the Rutland parish wrote Marshall to report he had received new complaints about Paquette.

"Father Paquette sexually molested two young men while on communion calls in the hospital," the Rev. James Engle wrote Marshall on Oct. 21, 1974.

"It is imperative that Father Paquette be removed from the Rutland area immediately ... I would also suggest that ... it should be done without fanfare or farewell parties and that it be publicly announced as sick leave."

After more treatment, Paquette was transferred to St. Augustine Church in Montpelier and, in 1976, to Christ the King Church in Burlington, which operates an accompanying elementary school. O'Neill alleged Paquette molested boys in Montpelier, but acknowledged there is no evidence Marshall was told about it.

By early 1978, the Burlington parish was fielding a steady stream of complaints from parents, alleging Paquette had molested their sons and describing other strange behavior by him.

"Several indicated they would not go near the church while Father Paquette was around," the Rev. John Fradet wrote in an April 20, 1978, memo to Marshall summarizing the situation. "Feelings were high. (Name deleted) felt we were treading on 'very thin ice' -- he was aware of six other parents."

The documents show that Marshall was torn about dismissing Paquette.

"Despite the demands of two sets of irate parents that 'something be done about this,' Father Paquette's pastor and I are determined to take the risk of leaving him in his present assignment," Marshall wrote to the head of a priest therapy retreat in Whitinsville, Mass., on April 4, 1978.

By April 17, Marshall had changed his mind. The next day, he wrote Paquette, saying he could no longer serve in any diocesan parish.

"The serious weakness that you have shown and your unwillingness or inability to cooperate with your counselor ... has forced this decision upon me," Marshall wrote.

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at

What's next

JULY 1: Trial scheduled in case of priest molestation allegations. Defendants are former Rev. George Paulin and Burlington Roman Catholic Diocese.

NOV. 1: Trial scheduled in case of priest molestation allegations. Defendants are former Rev. Alfred Willis and Burlington diocese.

Abuse in Catholic Church

The statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and Michael Gay of South Burlington agreed Wednesday to settle a civil lawsuit that claimed Gay was molested as a child by former priest Edward Paquette. The diocese will pay Gay $965,000, an amount believed to be the largest settlement in a priest-abuse case in state history. Among other recent claims:

JULY 12, 1996: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington agrees to a settlement with Joseph Barquin. Barquin sued the diocese in 1995, claiming sexual and physical abuse by a nun at St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington in 1951. Details of the settlement are not disclosed.

SPRING 1996: Bishop Kenneth Angell offers $5,000 to former residents of St. Joseph's Orphanage who claim they were abused as children by nuns and others. More than 60 agree to the offer in return for a promise not to sue.

1997: Diocese settles case brought by Janet Labelle Prince, who claimed as a young girl she was raped by the Rev. Benjamin Wysolmerski in the early 1960s, and then raped again by him in the late 1970s when she was married. Details not disclosed.

APRIL 8, 1999: The church agrees to settle 14 court cases brought by people who claim they were abused as children by nuns and others at St. Joseph's Orphanage. Details not disclosed.

MARCH 7, 2004: The church agrees to pay $120,000 to Michael Bernier. Bernier alleged Rev. James McShane sexually abused him when Bernier was a parochial school student in St. Albans in about 1970.

APRIL 6, 2004: The Church agrees to a $170,000 settlement with Robert Douglas II. Douglas alleged the Rev. Alfred Willis molested him as a 13-year-old while he was attending St. Ann Catholic Church in Milton in the late 1970s.

Diocesan document made public Wednesday that Michael Gay's attorney says details the church's knowledge of former priest Edward Paquette's misconduct:

Monsignor John Fradet memo to Bishop John Marshall detailing former priest Edward Paquette's 1978 problems at Christ the King Parish in Burlington:


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