Former Vatican Counsel Castigates Vt. Church

By Kevin O'Connor
Times Argus
August 19, 2008

BURLINGTON — A former Vatican canon lawyer testified Monday that Vermont's Catholic Church was "irresponsible" and "negligent" in dealing with a pedophile priest who's now the focus of 20 civil lawsuits.

"The concern was for the image of the institutional church — 'How are we going to look?'" said the Rev. Thomas Doyle. "What I didn't find was any serious effort to sit down with the families to provide pastoral care, to consider the harm that had been done to these victims."

Doyle said he spoke from experience: Working for the pope in Washington a quarter century ago, he helped write a confidential report that documented the then-secret details of sexual abuse by U.S. priests and warned it could cost the church more than $1 billion — a figure reached three years ago.

"They knew that this man had repeatedly acted out in every assignment in spite of intervention," Doyle said of the Vermont diocese. "But I didn't see any indication that either the pastors or communities were informed."

Doyle's opinion came in the Chittenden Superior Court case of Thomas Murray, a 40-year-old Waitsfield man who claims former priest Edward Paquette repeatedly molested him when Murray was a Burlington altar boy three decades ago.

The state's largest religious denomination, socked in May by a record $8.7 million verdict of negligence in its 1970s hiring and supervision of the priest, says it shouldn't be liable in the latest case because it was following since-debunked advice of mental health professionals.

As an example, church lawyers showed Doyle a letter in which psychiatrist Charles Hillenbrand, having subjected Paquette to 11 sessions of electric shock therapy, told the diocese in 1972 that "I would endorse him for any type of assignment for which his training qualifies him, including parish work."

In response, Doyle pointed to church records that showed the diocese had placed Paquette in Rutland in 1972, Montpelier in 1974 and Burlington in 1976 without telling anyone it knew the priest had a history of molesting boys in Massachusetts and Indiana.

"The first thing that hit me in the head like a hammer was, he was put in charge of altar boys," Doyle said. "Although there was medical information, all that did was talk about the treatment he tried. The main thing that should have been looked at was the pattern of acting out. In spite of admonitions in the past and promises to do better, he continued to act out."

Doyle, 64, is considered a hero by the national Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and the lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful because he left his Vatican position in 1986 to assist victims through personal visits, testifying in local courts and state legislatures, and co-authoring the book "Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse."

"In doing so," the New York Times has reported, "Father Doyle also became a thorn in the side of the church hierarchy."

Diocesan lawyer Thomas McCormick stabbed back in court Monday. Asking Doyle how much he charged for consulting, the attorney voiced surprise when the Dominican-order priest said $300 an hour.

"Dominicans take a vow of poverty," McCormick said. "It's fair to say the average Dominican doesn't get paid $300 an hour?"

The lawyer went on to question how Doyle could discount the diocese's reliance on changing mental health thinking when his own opinions about misconduct had evolved.

"You used to be of the view that treatment was appropriate," McCormick said.

"To claim we didn't know what this was all about in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s is fairly empty," the priest replied. "My opinion is they were irresponsible decisions. I think they were negligent. Parents would trust their children with priests. Those who would suffer the most — children and families — did suffer the most."

The Vermont diocese has spent six years and at least $2 million to resolve nine previous misconduct lawsuits (not including May's record ruling), yet it still faces 21 similar cases involving eight former priests.

The current trial is expected to continue through the week.

Contact Kevin O'Connor at


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