Judge: Diocese Can Show Efforts to Combat Clerical Abuse

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press

December 9, 2008

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at

The state's Roman Catholic diocese can tell jurors about its efforts to combat sexual abuse by church personnel in the years since a priest allegedly molested altar boys at a Burlington parish in the late 1970s, a judge ruled Monday.

"I am going to allow that evidence if it is specific to efforts the diocese undertook to address the issue of sexual abuse against minors," Judge Dennis Pearson told lawyers in the case late Monday afternoon.

The ruling, which had been sought by diocesan lawyers, opens up a new line of defense for the diocese in the case of a Takoma Park, Md., man who claims that as an 11-year-old boy he was twice molested by the Rev. Edward Paquette at Christ the King Church.

"He has given us the opportunity to put in some evidence that the diocese did address this issue by taking corrective measures," church attorney Kaveh Shahi said in an interview outside the courtroom. "Up to now, we've not been allowed to show how we tried to fix the problem."

Jerome O'Neill, one of the Maryland man's lawyers, declined comment on the ruling. The Burlington Free Press does not publish the names of victims of sexual abuse without their permission.

The trial, which enters its fifth day today, is the third this year involving claims by former Burlington altar boys that they were fondled by Paquette and that the diocese knew he was a child molester when it hired him in 1972.

One of the earlier trials concluded with an $8.7 million damage verdict against the diocese; the other ended in a mistrial.

Pearson's ruling conflicts with the stance taken by Judge Matthew Katz in the two earlier trials. Katz had ruled that whatever the diocese had done to address clerical sexual abuse in recent years was not relevant to how it handled the Paquette incidents at the time they occurred.

Shahi said Katz's ruling had put the diocese at a disadvantage because lawyers for Paquette's victims were able to tell jurors about other problem priests the diocese had in the 1980s and 1990s, with no chance for the diocese to show what it was doing about the issue.

"I think this ruling will hopefully provide more of a balanced picture to the jury," Shahi said. Pearson said the diocese can present information about its efforts to confront clerical sexual abuse that took place between 1978 and the end of 2002.

The diocese does not dispute that Paquette molested the Maryland man when he was an altar boy, but contends he waited too long to file his lawsuit. Paquette, who is retired and lives in Westfield, Mass., is not a defendant in the case.

The Maryland man is scheduled to testify at the trial this morning.


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