Former Altar Boy's Case Goes to Jury

Times Argus

August 25, 2008

BURLINGTON - Calling it the Diocese of Burlington's "day of reckoning," a lawyer for a former altar boy asked a jury Monday to award up to $14 million in damages in a priest sex abuse case, telling jurors to punish the church for hiring and protecting a pedophile priest at the expense of child victims.

A church lawyer, meanwhile, called former Diocesan Bishop John Marshall "well meaning but ill-advised" but urged the panel to be fair in assessing blame for the actions of former priest Rev. Edward Paquette, whom he hired.

'This wasn't an errant priest," said John Evers, an attorney for the plaintiff. "This wasn't just a bad apple. The folks in charge of the apple tree weren't paying attention."

The plaintiff, a 40-year-old Waitsfield man, says Paquette sexually abused him when he was a fourth-grade altar boy at Christ the King church in Burlington in 1977 and 1978. The Associated Press does not identify sexual assault victims without their permission.

He is one of more than a dozen people to file suit against the Vermont church over the actions of Paquette, 79, who is now retired and living in Westfield, Mass., but is not named as a defendant in the case. In May, a jury hearing a similar case brought by another ex-altar boy won an $8.7 million verdict in his negligent supervision lawsuit against the church.

The man in the present case sued the church in 2005, saying he was molested by Paquette between 20 and 50 times while serving as an altar boy with Paquette.

The crux of his case is that Paquette had a history of child molestation allegations - and that Diocese officials knew it - but that he was hired anyway in 1972 before going on to victimize other children in parishes in Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington.

The church doesn't deny the abuse took place, but says Marshall and others acted on the best advice they had at the time, believing that prayer and treatment could cure pedophiles.

Church lawyer Tom McCormick told the jury that it would be unfair to hold the current church and its leaders responsible for their predecessors' actions.

"No 9- or 10-year-old should be fondled," he said. "If that fondling was the result of a mistake that could've been avoided, then compensate him."

The jury, which started deliberating at 3:20 p.m., had one member replaced just before closing arguments Monday after Judge Matthew Katz said a juror had "frequently dozed" during testimony. The man was replaced by an alternate juror.


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