Two Former Priests Accused of Molesting Montpelier Altar Boy in 1970s

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press [Vermont]
March 20, 2007

Two former priests named in earlier child sexual abuse lawsuits that led to out-of-court financial settlements with their alleged victims are now accused of molesting the same Montpelier altar boy in the 1970s, a new lawsuit claims.

The case, on file at Chittenden Superior Court in Burlington, contends that former priests Edward Paquette and Alfred Willis molested the youth during the time each was an assistant pastor at St. Augustine's Catholic Church in Montpelier.

The lawsuit also alleges the diocese received information that Paquette and Willis allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with other young boys before or during their time at the Montpelier church.

"Defendant diocese actively and fraudulently concealed information pertinent and relevant to claims relating to sexual abuse in this matter for the purpose of protecting itself from civil liability," the lawsuit claims.

The diocese, in its formal response filed with the court, denied the victim's claims.

Diocesan records filed with the court in connection with an earlier priest sex abuse lawsuit show that the two former priests were assigned to St. Augustine's in the mid-1970s but do not appear to have worked there at the same time.

Paquette was assistant pastor at the church between 1974 and 1976. Willis was assigned to the same post at St. Augustine's within days of Paquette's departure in 1976 and was employed there until mid-1979.

David Cleary, the diocese's lead attorney, did not comment on the new case Monday but said the diocese acted quickly to remove Paquette and Willis from their parish assignments once it became clear that their sexual behavior was incurable.

"As soon as the diocese became aware, or as soon as it appeared that medical, psychiatric and spiritual assistance would not be of help in combating the disease, they were suspended," Cleary said.

Paquette was stripped of his priestly duties by the diocese in 1978 after parents of altar boys at Christ the King Church in Burlington claimed he was molesting their sons. One of the alleged victims, Michael Gay of South Burlington, sued Paquette and the diocese in 2004. The diocese settled the case last year for $965,000.

In 1980, Willis was banned from priestly duties after parents at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Milton made similar allegations about Willis' conduct with altar boys. One of his alleged victims in Milton, Robert Douglas II, sued the diocese and agreed to a $170,000 out-of-court settlement in 2004.

Paquette is the target of 17 other pending cases filed by former altar boys in Burlington and Montpelier. Willis is named in two other pending cases by former altar boys in Burlington and Milton.

Diocesan records filed with the court during the Gay case show that Paquette allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with boys at parishes in Massachusetts, Indiana and Vermont before he was assigned to the Montpelier church.

"Father Paquette sexually molested two young men while on communion calls at the hospital," the Rev. James Engle of Christ the King Catholic Church in Rutland reported in an Oct. 21, 1974 letter to then-Bishop John A. Marshall.

Likewise, diocesan records show that three parents of altar boys at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Burlington complained to Marshall in early 1978 about Willis' conduct with their sons.

"There arose allegations of sexual involvement with young boys on the part of Father W.," one church document said. "The alleged incidents concerned families belonging to the St. Anthony parish in Burlington where Father W. served as a deacon, families he continued to frequent while now stationed in Montpelier."

The statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington is the only named defendant in the case. The victim is identified by the pseudonym "John Doe II." The case was filed late last year but did not become public until recently.

Willis' lawyer, John Gravel, declined comment on the case. Paquette, who lives in Westfield, Mass., does not have an attorney. He hung up the telephone when contacted by a reporter Monday.

In all, 26 cases alleging priest sexual misconduct are pending at the Burlington court. All but two identify the alleged victim of the abuse as the plaintiff; the Free Press does not publish the names of alleged victims of sexual crimes without their permission.

In the other "John Doe" case, filed in 2005, Paquette is accused of molesting a St. Augustine altar boy at the church and at Lake Elmore in Elmore.

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


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