Fourth Sex Abuse Case against Diocese Goes to Trial

September 29, 2009

Vermont's Roman Catholic Diocese is once again on trial in a civil case brought by a former altar boy who was sexually abused by a priest.

This is the fourth case to go to trial of two dozen lawsuits filed by 23 former altar boys who claim the Vermont Diocese was negligent because it failed to protect them from pedophile priest Edward Paquette more than 30 years ago.

This 44-year-old plaintiff says he was only 11 and an altar boy at Christ the King Church in Burlington when he was groped at least two dozen times by former priest Edward Paquette.

We are not identifying the plaintiff because he is the victim of a sex crime.

He claims the incidents 33 years ago caused life-altering psychological damage that made him an alcoholic, a drug-abuser, and ruined his marriage. He says the diocese should pay damages because Bishop John Marshall-- who died 15 years ago-- was negligent because he ignored warnings that Paquette preyed on young boys even after Paquette was caught multiple times.

"We are going to prove to you that by its actions the diocese enabled a known child molester to be exactly where he wanted to be which is given complete access to boys that he could molest," said Jerry O'Neill, the victim's lawyer.

In response the diocese claims that the altar boy should get nothing because he waited 29 years until 2005 to file his lawsuit, well beyond the statute of limitations. It also claims Bishop Marshall acted in good faith when he placed Paquette based on the opinions of psychologists who said Paquette had been cured by prayer and treatment.

"As incredible as it may seem, there was another recommendation by medical personnel saying put him in a parish. That was back then in 1974," said Tom McCormick, the lawyer for the diocese.

Last year two jury trials ended with the diocese ordered to pay two former altar boys more than $12 million for failing to protect them from Paquette. The diocese has appealed those awards to the Vermont Supreme Court. A ruling is pending.

Paquette, who is now 80, resides in Western Massachusetts. He was stripped of his official duties as priest in the late 70s. But he was still drawing retirement pay from the diocese until six months ago when he was officially defrocked by the Vatican.


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