Third Priest Molestation Case in 12 Months Starts This Week

By Sam Hemingway
Free Press

November 30, 2008

Another clerical sex-abuse trial — the third this year — is scheduled to get under way Wednesday, this one involving claims by a former Burlington altar boy that he was molested by the Rev. Edward Paquette twice in the late 1970s.

The victim, who was 12 at the time, said the incidents occurred at Christ the King Church in Burlington and that he quit being an altar boy after Paquette molested him the second time, according to court papers in the case.

The former altar boy, now a businessman living in Hyattsville, Md., is suing the state’s Roman Catholic diocese for damages, alleging it knew Paquette was a child molester when it hired him. The man is seeking an undisclosed amount of monetary damages for the abuse.

The diocese does not dispute the man’s molestation claims but contends his case should be dismissed because he waited too long to file his lawsuit. Paquette, who is retired and lives in Westfield, Mass., is not a defendant in the case.

Both trials earlier this year involved similar molestation claims, although the alleged victims in those cases said Paquette molested them, in one case, between 40 and 100 times and, in the other case, between 20 and 50 times.

The earlier trials also had dramatically different results. The first, in May, ended with an $8.7 million jury award to the victim. The second, in August, was declared a mistrial after a jury was unable to reach a verdict after 16 hours of deliberation.

This week’s trial will be the first one to be presided over by Judge Dennis Pearson. Judge Matthew Katz handled the two earlier trials this year and Judge Ben Joseph presided over a 2007 case involving a different priest that required a second trial when the first one was declared a mistrial.

Pearson, in a set of rulings last week, signaled that he may be less willing than Katz or Joseph to allow lawyers for the molestation victims to introduce evidence about the diocese handled molestation claims involving other priests since the late 1970s.

Attorneys Jerome O’Neill and John Evers, representing the 28 alleged victims of priest sexual abuse who have filed cases against the diocese in Chittenden County Superior Court, have contended such evidence is important because it shows an ongoing cover-up of the abuse by diocesan officials.

“I’m not sure how any post-1978 conduct is probative of negligent supervision in the 1976 to 1978 period,” Pearson told the lawyers during a pre-trial hearing.

“It shows a continuing pattern and practice by the diocese,” O’Neill responded.

Pearson later decided to limit testimony about some of the diocese’s actions connected with its handling of molestation claims involving the Rev. Alfred Willis in 1980.

This week’s trial could also feature testimony from Bishop Salvatore Matano, who has headed the diocese since 2005.

Matano has attended all of the clerical sex abuse trials in Burlington but has never taken the witness stand. O’Neill disclosed during last week’s hearing that Matano recently underwent a deposition, or formal interview, with lawyers in the case.

A jury for Wednesday’s trial is scheduled to be selected Tuesday. Should the case settle prior to trial, one of two back-up cases involving similar Paquette molestation claims will take its place.


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