Letters Detail Charges of Abuse by Priest

By Bill Zajac
The [Springfield MA] Republican
July 3, 2006

[Links to the diocesan documents referred to in this article were added by The documents were obtained from the Web site of the Burlington Free Press newspaper. See also Diocese Settles Priest Abuse Case for $965,000, by Sam Hemingway, Burlington Free Press (4/20/06); and Past Still Haunts Accused Priest, by Bill Zajac, The Republican (2/27/05), both with additional links.]

The handwritten letter by the Rev. Edward O. Paquette, a Westfield resident, to Bishop John A. Marshall of the Burlington, Vt., diocese, was a failed attempt to be honest about Paquette's sexual attraction toward boys.

Paquette, who previously departed two other Roman Catholic dioceses after being accused of sexually abusing boys, was asking Marshall for another chance to be a priest.

"I did have problems but received medical treatment, and I am cured now," the March 18, 1972 letter stated without a specific reference to sexual abuse.

Paquette wrote that he served in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind. He never mentioned working in the Diocese of Fall River, where he also was accused of molesting boys, according to court records.

The handling of Paquette's request and subsequent assignments by Marshall, who would later become bishop of the Springfield diocese and is now dead, is a primary focus of 12 lawsuits filed against the Diocese of Burlington by men who say they were abused as boys by Paquette in the 1970s.

The men claim the diocese should not have allowed Paquette to serve in Vermont given his history.

The first of the 12 lawsuits recently was settled for $965,000, which is the largest single clergy abuse settlement in Vermont's history, according to the plaintiff's lawyer.

The suits are being handled one at a time, in the order in which they were filed.

The following is a chronological summary based on court records of correspondence between Paquette, Marshall, Paquette's doctors and other church officials in the decision to hire and eventually dismiss Paquette, who now is in his 70s and living in Westfield.


March 18, 1972: Paquette's letter to Marshall states he could provide recommendations, including from his psychiatrist, his Westfield pastor and one of his former bishops.

"I am now celebrating daily Mass in Westfield. I do pray, Bishop Marshall, that you will consider my request," Paquette writes.

March 21, 1972: Marshall replies to Paquette, writing, "Naturally I am very anxious to have the assistance of as many quality priests as may be possible."

Marshall states that he assigned Diocesan Chancellor the Rev. John R. McSweeney to check out Paquette's references and that Paquette's medical reports would be sought "in order that I may know the nature of your illness."

March 27, 1972: McSweeney writes to Paquette and asks him to give permission to Paquette's professional references to release confidential information about himself.

McSweeney also writes to the Rev. Timothy O'Connor, Paquette's pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Westfield, and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.

March 30, 1972: The Most Rev. Leo Pursley, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., writes to Marshall [actually to McSweeney], stating that Paquette has performed well in the five parishes he has served, "but has a personal problem described by his psychiatrist as 'a latent homosexual drive which becomes active only during cycles of depression.'"

Pursley states that Paquette received intensive therapy for two years and quotes a medical report by Catholic psychiatrist Dr. Charles Hillenbrand.

"This patient acknowledges his malady and perseveres in his resolution to contain it," Pursley quotes from the report.

Pursley expresses fear of scandal, by writing, "Why, then, do I not keep him? There are two reasons. First, Father Paquette himself wants to be situated closer to his home ...

"Second, the three homosexual episodes involving young boys occurred over a period of six years in three large parishes in three parts of the diocese. The territory is not large enough to provide another assignment and the risk scandal is thus aggravated," Pursley writes to Marshall.

Pursley recommends that Paquette be given an assignment of "institutional chaplaincy."

April 4, 1972: Home parish pastor O'Connor writes to McSweeney, recommending Paquette.

"He (psychiatrist Hillenbrand) also said that Father Paquette is not basically a homosexual. It is a latent condition which the doctor claims to come on in deep depression and he considers it as quite a normal thing," O'Connor writes.

April 28, 1972: Hillenbrand writes to McSweeney, stating, "I would endorse him for any type of assignment for which his training qualifies him, including parish work."

He includes the stipulation of monthly conferences with a "confessor-counselor" and semiannual meetings with a doctor, "preferably a psychiatrist."

May 31, 1972: An evaluation of Paquette is conducted with a personnel committee in Vermont.

Panel member the Monsignor Edward J. Fitzsimmons later writes, "He (Paquette) talked quite openly, but not with any specifics, about his lapses into homosexuality. I would guess there were two such instances in Fall River and two in Indiana."

Although he has reservations about Paquette, he yields to Hillenbrand's recommendation. His letter includes a postscript that states, "I did find it a bit disquieting that he (Paquette) has not visited a psychiatrist since he has returned home. He felt no need for it."

June 9, 1972: Diocese of Burlington appoints Paquette to work at Christ the King Parish in Rutland on a trial basis.


Oct. 21, 1974: The Rev. James Engle, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Rutland, writes to Marshall, stating, "I am greatly disappointed and very saddened over the report I received from the hospital that Father Paquette sexually molested two young men while on communion calls in the hospital."

"It is imperative that Fr. Paquette be removed from the Rutland area immediately but I do hope that he will be able to be reassigned after proper psychiatric treatment," Engle writes.

Nov. 3, 1974: Paquette writes to Marshall, "I am very sorry that I did what I did. In humility, may God forgive me."

Nov. 6, 1974: After a series of psychological tests, the Rev. (Dr.) Thomas Kane, the executive director of the House of Affirmation Therapeutic Center for Clergy and Religious, writes to Marshall, saying Paquette suffers from "a high degree of psycho-sexual immaturity with a corresponding lack of assertiveness."

However, in his conclusion, he writes, "There is no reason why with maintenance therapy that Father Paquette cannot perform in his ministry in both an adequate and beneficial manner."

Nov. 13, 1974: Marshall writes to Paquette, informing him that Kane's recommendation will be followed and that Paquette will be given a new parish assignment, which is St. Augustine Parish in Montpelier.


June 15, 1976: Paquette appointed as associate pastor of Christ the King Parish in Burlington.


[The following meetings and actions are documented in a 4/20/78 memo from Rev. W. John Fradet to Bishop Marshall.]

March 10, 1978: Two sets of parents meet with Christ the King pastor the Rev. W. John Fradet and accuse Paquette of sexually abusing altar boys, who Paquette was assigned to supervise. There were also accusations that Paquette introduced junior high students to a Black Mass where sperm was put in a cup to drink.

March 12, 1978: Marshall meets with Paquette and tells him to resume counseling and that Paquette was to remain in the parish.

March 22, 1978: Marshall imposes a restriction on Paquette that he can no longer train altar boys.

April 11, 1978: A mother comes forward with an accusation that her 11-year-old son was molested by Paquette.

April 15, 1978: A pediatrician father of an 11-year-old boy reports that his son was abused and that as a pediatrician he believed Marshall and others were not comprehending the severity of what had been done. He said parents told him that they would not go near their church as long as Paquette was still assigned to it.

April 16, 1978: A parent of a young boy tells Pastor Fradet that given Paquette's past, he cannot "understand why Father Paquette was put in charge of altar boys and has assignments with other young people."

April 17, 1978: Fradet writes, "No longer could (we) keep lid on Christ the King. (name redacted) had contacted Father McSweeney. Father Paquette relieved of his assignment at Christ the King effective immediately and to return to his home diocese. Continued counseling advised, etc."

[Bishop Marshall wrote to Paquette on 4/18/78 suspending his faculties.]


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