10 May 2008

Nun said she saw priest molest boy

The Burlington Free Press - Vermont
May 10, 2008

by Sam Hemingway

A nun who served as principal of a Montpelier Catholic elementary school testified at a clergy abuse trial Friday that she witnessed the Rev. Edward Paquette groping a boy at the school in mid-1970s.

"I saw a student going up the stairs, and I saw Father Paquette behind him," Sister Mary Crosby said. "He put his hand up under his legs."

Crosby's testimony capped the plaintiff's case in a civil trial under way in Chittenden County Superior Court. A former altar boy seeks damages from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington for hiring and then putting Paquette in a position to abuse him. He claims he was molested by Paquette at Christ the King Church in Burlington between 40 and 100 times during the late 1970s.

The Burlington Free Press does not disclose the identities of alleged victims of sexual crimes without their consent.

Crosby, now retired and living in Burlington, said the incident she witnessed took place at St. Michael's School in Montpelier and lasted only two or three seconds.

She said she cannot remember whether she told anyone about what she saw at the time.

"Part of me says yes and part of me says no." she said.

Crosby said she remembers that Paquette was transferred shortly afterward to Christ the King Church in Burlington, where her nephew was an altar boy. She said she alerted her brother and sister-in-law to make sure their son was never alone with Paquette.

"I was concerned about what I had seen," Crosby said. "I had an uneasy feeling."

She said she did not know until recently that diocesan officials had information alleging that Paquette had molested boys in Rutland and at parishes in Indiana and Massachusetts before being assigned to St. Augustine Catholic Church in Montpelier in 1974. The Montpelier church is located near St. Michael's School.

The diocese does not contest that Paquette molested altar boys in Vermont, but has maintained that its personnel decisions regarding Paquette were based on advice from Catholic psychologists and it should not be blamed now for incidents that took place 30 years ago.

The diocese in 1978 took away Paquette's priestly rights after receiving complaints about him from parents at Christ the King School. He is now retired and is not a defendant in the pending case.

Tom McCormick, a church lawyer, said Friday the diocese would decide by Monday morning whether to put on any witnesses before resting its case. The jury is expected to begin deliberations on a verdict by Monday afternoon after hearing closing statements from both sides.

Morning testimony

Earlier Friday, a parade of five former altar boys testified on behalf of the plaintiff in the case, describing how they were fondled by Paquette during his time as a priest in Vermont.

Four were altar boys at Christ the King Church; the fifth was an altar boy at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier. They are among 19 who have sued the diocese alleging abuse by Paquette and include Michael Gay of South Burlington, who settled his case with the diocese for $965,000 in 2006.

Gay told the jury Friday that he was groped by Paquette on the first day Gay served as an altar boy at the Burlington church.

"I remember walking down the stairs at Christ the King to the front doors of the gym area," Gay said, weeping as he spoke. "There was Father Paquette with his pants around his ankles. His shirt was untucked and he was fully exposed."

Gay said he recalled how Paquette would corner him where altar boys changed into their religious garb, grab him by the genitals and sometimes make Gay touch his genital area.

McCormick, the diocesan lawyer, asked few questions of the five former altar boys. In several instances, he merely identified himself and said he had nothing to ask.

Outside the courtroom after his testimony, Gay described the brief courthouse reunion of several former Christ the King altar boys as an emotional experience.

"It's good to see my friends, to be back in touch with them," he said. "To have this, I think it brings us a little closer to each other. We hope that we are doing well and obviously hope we can help each other heal ... I'm here for each and every one of them."

Also testifying Friday was the wife of the plaintiff in the case, who described the difficulties her husband has had in showing affection and being sexually intimate.

She became emotional when describing the day her husband received a copy of a newspaper story about the Gay lawsuit from a relative living in Vermont. She said that was the first time her husband told her about Paquette and described the disclosure as the "ah-ha moment" of their marriage.

When the case does go to the jury, the panel will be given the option of awarding punitive as well as compensatory damages to the plaintiff, the judge in the case ruled late Thursday.

"Plaintiff here has pre- sented evidence that this errant priest had an almost 10-year history of molesting young boys, in his role as priest," Judge Matthew Katz wrote. "This diocese had notice of that problem."

Katz acknowledged in his ruling that the diocese had yet to put on its case but said the evidence had showed that the diocese knew about Paquette's history as a child sexual abuser and had not supervised him accordingly.

"The evidence of actual supervision is actually noteworthy for its total absence," Katz wrote.

The ruling is considered significant because large-money figures are often involved when a jury is allowed to award punitive damages.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I just discovered your blog and it is really relevant to what is happening today and the efforts at protecting our children. I hope that in all these cases, most significantly, in the cases involving clergymen that they get put behind bars no matter how old they are. Let them "meditate" in prison on how they've destroyed children's lives for the rest of their lives.

    Please keep posting news and articles!!!