(Host) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has agreed to a record settlement in a court case involving sexual abuse by a priest.
The $965,000 settlement was announced
today just as the trial was to begin.
VPR’s Steve Zind was in Burlington for the announcement.
(Zind) The case involved the Reverend Edward Paquette who the diocese acknowledges sexually abused Michael Gay in the 1970s when Gay was an altar boy at Christ the King Church in Burlington.
Lawyers for the diocese say the church agreed to settle because it was faced with an expensive trial and felt that a series of pre-trial rulings would make it difficult for them to prevail.
They also said they would rather see the money go to the plaintiff rather than the lawyers involved in the case.
Diocese lawyer David Cleary wouldn’t speculate how the settlement would affect sixteen other cases currently pending against the church. The diocese doesn’t have insurance to cover the settlements.
(Cleary) “If they were to be settled for similar amounts it would be catastrophic.”
(Zind) Cleary says the settlement money will come from church investments. It’s a large sum compared to previous cases. They were all settled for under $200,000 dollars.
What the church knew and how it responded to allegations will likely be central arguments in the remaining cases.
The cases have all been filed Jerome O’Neill who also served as Gay’s lawyer.
O’Neill came armed Monday with color charts and enlargements of letters that he’d planned to show the jury.
The documents show that church officials in Massachusetts and Indiana had dealt with a series of sexual abuse allegations against Paquette. O’Neill says in spite of Paquette’s history, then-Bishop John Marshall assigned him to parishes in Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington.
(O’Neill) “He comes here to Vermont. He abuses boys here in Vermont. And what happens? They keep him on. And there’s a three-page memorandum of the events at Christ the King Church here that show that Bishop Marshall would have been only to happy to keep him on as a priest except for the community pressure, which was way too great.”
(Zind) Lawyers for the diocese say O’Neill’s documents tell only half the story. They say Marshall allowed Paquette to practice in Vermont on the recommendation of doctors and therapists.
(O’Brien) “Bishop Marshall was relying to a strong extent on the medical community.”
(Zind) William O’Brien is a lawyer for the diocese. O’Brien says a letter from Paquette’s physician to Bishop Marshall gave Paquette a clean bill of health before he came to Vermont.
(O’Brien) “Father Paquette’s treating physician, April 28th,1972. Quote. I would endorse him for any type of assignment for which his training qualifies him, including parish work.'”
(Zind) Two years after he came to Vermont, a priest wrote to Marshall telling him that Paquette had sexually molested two young men while on a hospital communion call in Rutland. O’Brien says Marshall immediately ordered Paquette to undergo treatment in Massachusetts. Following his treatment, a therapist wrote to Marshall:
(O’Brien) “Quote. It is my opinion that Father Paquette should return as soon as possible to a parish setting and observe the signals of caution which we have discussed and which have been pointed out to him.'”
(Zind) Marshall then assigned Paquette first to Montpelier and finally to Burlington where the abuse of Michael Gay occurred. Even then a therapist told Marshall that Paquette did not pose an undue risk. William O’Brien:
(O’Brien) “This Bishop wasn’t flying in the dark. He was relying upon the best knowledge of the medical community at the time. Unfortunately, in 1978, they didn’t realize that this is deep seated and there is no cure.”
(Zind) But Jerome O’Neill says regardless of the recommendations of therapists, it should have been obvious to the bishop that treatment wasn’t working and Paquette should have been removed.
(O’Neill) “The buck stops with the bishop. How many boys have to be abused before the bishop says,’ I don’t care what the psychiatrists say.'”
(Zind) O’Neill’s client Michael Gay was present when the settlement was announced Monday. Gay said he hoped his case would make it easier for others to come forward. Of Paquette, Gay said:
(Gay) “He took away something that was very important to me – My childhood and my faith in God and religion.”
(Zind) In the settlement, the church expressed its regret for the incidents.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.
(Host) There are sixteen remaining sexual abuse cases against the Roman Catholic Diocese. Eleven of those cases involve allegations against Edward Paquette.