Ex-Altar Boy Testifies in Abuse Case against Priest

Associated Press, carried in The Republican
May 8, 2008

BURLINGTON, Vt. - A former altar boy suing the Diocese of Burlington over sexual abuse he says he suffered at the hands of a priest took the stand today, describing for jurors how he and other boys were routinely groped but never reported it because it was by a priest.

"It wasn't a fight we were going to pick. This man was the next-closest thing to God," the man told jurors.

The 40-year-old mechanical engineer from Lakewood, Colo., who served as an altar boy at Christ the King Church in Burlington in the 1970s, filed suit in 2005 alleging negligent supervision of the Rev. Edward O. Paquette by the Roman Catholic diocese.

The Associated Press does not identify sexual abuse victims without their consent.

Paquette, who was hired by the diocese despite child molestation allegations lodged against him in Indiana and Massachusetts, is the subject of about 20 pending sex-abuse lawsuits against the diocese. But he is not a named defendant in the case being tried, and he could not be reached for comment today.

The Rev. Edward O. Paquette, of Westfield, shown in this 2005 file photo, is the subject of about 20 pending sex-abuse lawsuits against the Diocese of Burlington, Vt.

Priest now lives in Westfield

Now retired and living in Westfield, Mass., he joined the Vermont diocese in 1972 and served in parishes in Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington during the next six years. He was never assigned to a parish in Western Massachusetts.

The church moved him from parish to parish as new sexual misconduct allegations arose, according to plaintiff's attorney Jerome F. O'Neill, who told jurors in his opening statement Monday that the diocese bears responsibility because it knew about previous abuse allegations, hired Paquette anyway and then covered up for him once new accusations came up in Vermont.

Statute of limitations

The diocese doesn't dispute the abuse allegations in the Colorado man's case, but contends that the suit was filed too late under Vermont's statute of limitations.

The man told jurors the altar boys serving with Paquette came to nickname him "Father Pockets" - "We always joked about that he had something in his pockets for us," he said.

He said Paquette would give him and other altar boys "pony rides," sitting them on his knee while groping them.

"I never tried to resist," he told the eight-man, four-woman jury. "It wasn't an option at the time. He was a priest. It's like resisting your parents when they're trying to reprimand you. You just don't do it," he said.

Once, a fellow altar boy he was to serve with at 5:15 p.m. Mass brought a buck knife with him and said he was going to "stick" Paquette if he touched him. Fearful for what might happen, the man said, "I made myself first available to Father Paquette while (the other boy) was able to undress and not go through the pony ride that night."

On cross-examination by diocesan attorney Kaveh Shahi, he acknowledged that he always knew that what Paquette did was wrong but that he never spoke up until after reading about a fellow altar boy's suit in a newspaper article.

Pressing him on the issue of when he realized the diocese might be to blame, Shahi noted inconsistencies in the man's statements. The diocese wants to show that the man knew long before he filed suit, which could lead to a victory on the statute of limitations issue.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.