Another Trial under Way for Diocese of Burlington

By John Curran
Boston Globe

August 13, 2008

BURLINGTON, Vt.A lawyer for the Diocese of Burlington told jurors in a priest sex abuse trial Wednesday that church officials may have made mistakes in hiring a pastor with a history of molestation allegations against him but that they weren't reckless or malicious.

In the opening day of another trial targeting the Vermont church, Diocese attorney Thomas McCormick said the case involves events of decades ago and people who have long since died or ceased practicing as priests, urging jurors to consider the benefits of hindsight -- and modern knowledge about childhood sex abuse -- as they hear and see the evidence.

"At the time, they thought of (sex abuse) as a moral failing and a mental illness, and being a mental illness, it could be treated," McCormick said.

"How are you, we, the legal process, to put ourselves back then. That's the challenge of this case," McCormick told the six-woman, six-man Chittenden County Superior Court jury in opening statements.

The plaintiff in the case is a 41-year-old Waitsfield man who blames the Diocese for not protecting him from Rev. Edward Paquette. The Associated Press does not publish the names of sexual assault victims without their consent, and the man does not want to be publicly identified, according to his attorney, Jerome F. O'Neill.

The man, who listened intently from a table near the jury box as the trial got under way, says he was molested by Paquette between 20 and 50 times while serving as an altar boy at Christ the King Church in Burlington in the late 1970s.

Paquette, 79, of Westfield, Mass., has been named in more than a dozen suits against the Diocese, including one that led to an $8.7 million verdict against the church in May.

In his opening statement Wednesday, O'Neill told the jury that the Diocese chose to protect priests from scandal -- at the expense of children -- and that Paquette was placed in parishes with schools in Rutland, Montpelier and then Burlington despite being warned to keep him away from children.

As allegations against him surfaced, he was moved from parish to parish with no notification of law enforcement authorities, no notice to the public and no warning to priests he served with, according to O'Neill, who said church officials acted with "complete and utter disregard."

"We're suing the Diocese because it covered up the abuse," he said.


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