|Jury Begins Deliberations in Clergy Abuse Case
By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press
December 17, 2008
The jury in the case of a former altar boy molested by the Rev. Edward Paquette in the late 1970s went home Tuesday night without reaching a verdict and will resume deliberations this morning.
"Have a good night," Judge Dennis Pearson told the seven-woman, five man panel during a brief courtroom meeting with them at 10 p.m.
The jury decided to break off deliberations after almost eight hours after learning that a written transcript of Bishop Salvatore Matano's videotaped testimony would not be available for them to review Tuesday night.
The jury had indicated in a note to the judge that they wanted to review a portion of the testimony, but did not indicate which part.
The case before them involves claims by David Navari, a 43-year-old Takoma Park, Md., businessman. Navari, who until Tuesday had declined to be identified in news stories about the case, agreed to let his name be used now that the trial phase of the case was over.
Navari claims he was twice molested by Paquette in the sacristy of Christ the King Church in Burlington in the late 1970s when Navari was an 11-year-old learning to be an altar boy.
Navari's lawsuit, filed in 2005, contended that the diocese was to blame for the incidents because it knew Paquette was a child molester when it hired him. Paquette, who is retired and lives in Westfield, Mass., was not a defendant in the case.
John Evers, a lawyer for Navari, said in closing arguments Tuesday morning that the diocese was to blame for anxiety and other problems Navari has suffered over the years following the abuse. He asked the jury to award Navari between $6 million and $12.8 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages.
"The diocese deserves to be punished," Evers told the jury.
The diocese does not dispute the molestations occurred but argued the emotional and mental problems Navari has suffered were not caused by Paquette's misconduct but by turmoil in Navari's family when he was a teenager and his drive to succeed as an adult.
"When Navari had a meltdown, it was because there was pressure," diocesan attorney Tom McCormick told the jury during his closing argument Tuesday, citing an interview a fellow diocesan lawyer conducted with a Maryland psychologist who treated Navari.
"His self-esteem hinged on performance and wealth and when neither was going well, he would lose perspective on things that were going well in his life," McCormick said, paraphrasing the Maryland psychologist's view of Navari.
McCormick told the jury if it felt it was necessary to award money to Navari, to give him up to $15,000 in compensatory damages to pay for therapy and a "token" amount in punitive damages, like $1, $10 or $100.
The trial, which lasted nine days, was the longest and perhaps hardest fought of the four to have gone before a jury in the past 18 months. Three of the four have involved claims by former altar boys that they were abused by Paquette.
Navari, during his testimony in the case, told the jury that he felt so guilty and embarrassed about being fondled by Paquette that he did not tell anyone about what happened for years afterward.
"I knew it was really wrong and I thought I was going to get in trouble for it because I had let a man touch my private parts," Navari told the jury. He agreed Tuesday to permit himself to be identified in news stories of the case now that the trial was over.
Navari said Paquette squeezed and fondled his genital area over his clothes during the first incident, just before Navari was to perform his altar boy duties at the church for the first time.
When, sometime later, Paquette again molested him -- this time by slipping his hand inside Navari's underpants and directly touching his genitals -- Navari quit being an altar boy but did not tell his family why.
He said he finally disclosed what Paquette did to him in 2002 after hearing a radio report about the Boston clergy abuse scandal. He told the jury he has struggled with anxiety, depression, a sleeping disorder and alcohol abuse during his adult life.
Evers said a large monetary award against the diocese was justified because the diocese had a history of letting pedophile priests such as Paquette gain access to young altar boys like Navari.
According to diocesan records, the diocese was aware that Paquette had molested boys at parishes in Massachusetts, Indiana and in Rutland prior to his transfer to Burlington in 1976. Evers reminded the jury that Paquette was one of several pedophile priests that the diocese continued to employ who were the subject of sexual abuse allegations.
"You haven't heard anything in this case to signify that this diocese deserves a discount," Evers said.
McCormick told the jury that Navari's lawyers had created a "pseudo argument" by tying together facts taken from hundreds of pages of church documents and saying the evidence was proof the diocese protect misbehaving priests at the expense of children.
"A personnel record is just pieces of paper," he said. "It is not a complete record of human lives."
McCormick said child sex abuse allegations were treated differently in the 1970s than today, and that the diocese in recent years has put a strong program in place to educate church workers about child sex abuse and to investigate instances where such abuse is alleged to have occurred.
"The organization has made a determined effort to change," McCormick said.
Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at email@example.com
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