Reverend hired after pedophilia reports

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – Vermont’s Catholic leaders knew the Rev. Edward Paquette had a history of pedophilia in Massachusetts and Indiana when they hired him and assigned him to a parish in Rutland, according to a published report.

Details of Paquette’s past were cited in court documents in civil suits by Paquette’s alleged victims and internal church documents. They were reported in a story published Sunday in the The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

The Catholic Diocese of Burlington last week settled one of 17 pending lawsuits against it for $965,000 as a civil suit brought by one plaintiff, Michael Gay of South Burlington, was just going to trial.

Paquette, originally from Westfield, Mass., wrote to Bishop John Marshall in March of 1972 from Indiana, where he had been working as a priest, saying he wanted to move east to be closer to his family.

“I did have problems but received medical treatment, and I am now cured,” Paquette’s first letter to Marshall said.

The Vermont Diocese also received a letter dated that March 30 from Bishop Leo Pursley of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., warning about Paquette.

“The dossier is large and the history is long,” Pursley wrote. “I will try to be brief and to the point.” He referred to “three homosexual episodes involving young boys.”

Despite the warning, Paquette was assigned as a parish priest at Christ the King Church in Rutland that June.

Paquette, who became a priest at 28 in 1957, was found to have engaged in pedophilia by the early 1960s. Bishop James Connolly of Diocese of Fall River, Mass., sent Paquette a letter on Jan. 18, 1963 firing him from his position in the diocese.

“You must certainly appreciate the fact that you are liable to prosecution, under the laws of the state of Massachusetts,” Connolly wrote. “Such a thing, should it happen, could only result in your loss of all possibility for priestly ministry.”

No criminal charges were ever brought, and Paquette found a new position in Indiana the next year.

After he was relieved of his duties in Indiana, Paquette sought to bring his “priestly ministry” to Vermont.

During an interview with three Vermont priests on a hiring panel, Paquette “talked quite openly, but not with any specifics, about his lapses into homosexuality,” Monsignor Edward Fitzsimons wrote in meeting minutes.

“I would rely heavily on the diagnosis and professional advice of Dr. Hillenbrand (Paquette’s psychiatrist) who treated him following his last lapse. He feels that Father Paquette has this trouble only in periods of acute depression and feels that he can function well if these periods of acute depression are avoided.”

Rutland Pastor James Engle wrote to Marshall on Oct. 21, 1974 that he had received word that Paquette had “molested two young men while on communion calls in the (Rutland) hospital. … “As you readily understand, it is imperative that Fr. Paquette be removed from the Rutland area immediately.”

Paquette was sent to a psychiatric center for priests in Massachusetts and, on returning to Vermont, was assigned to St. Augustine’s parish in Montpelier.

Court documents don’t contain any abuse reports from Paquette’s time in Montpelier. But a Washington County man identified in court papers only as “John Doe” alleges in a lawsuit that Paquette molested him dozens of times at St. Augustine’s when the victim was 10 to 12.

Paquette was moved again, in 1976, to Christ the King Church in Burlington. By 1978, church officials heard more allegations of abuse.

“Despite the demands of two sets of irate parents that something be done about this,’ Father Paquette’s pastor and I are determined to take the risk of leaving him in his present assignment,” Marshall wrote in a 1978 letter. “Our thinking is that, knowing the awareness of others, concerning his problem, Father Paquette will have reason for self-control.”‘

The bishop’s letter continued: “do you think that the danger of scandal is already too risky?”

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