BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – A mistrial was declared Wednesday after jurors deadlocked in the case of a former altar boy who sued the Diocese of Burlington over sexual abuse he said he suffered at the hands of a parish priest 30 years ago.

Three months after a similar case led to an $8.7 million damage award against the church, jurors in Chittenden County Superior Court couldn’t return a verdict on the claim of a Waitsfield man who said the church was partly responsible for his molestation by a priest and should be held liable for damages.

They deliberated for 16 hours over three days – to no avail.

It was a legal victory for the church, but Bishop Salvatore Matano, the spiritual leader of Vermont’s 118,000 Catholics, stopped short of calling it a relief.

“How can you talk about relief or optimism when we’re dealing with the lives of people?” he said outside court. “I will only feel optimism or relief when all of this is brought to a conclusion and all of us can work toward reconciliation.”

The man’s chief lawyer, meanwhile, welcomed the mistrial and said he will seek a new trial, although no date was set.

“We think that the jury worked really hard,” said plaintiff’s counsel Jerome F. O’Neill. “We think they saw information that they should not have seen. Misrepresentations were made to them. And so consequently, this result doesn’t surprise us.”

The 40-year-old man, a former altar boy at Christ the King Church in Burlington, wasn’t in court when the mistrial was declared. O’Neill said the man had a prior commitment, but that O’Neill and co-counsel John Evers had prepared him for the possibility of a mistrial.

The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.

The man said he was molested by Rev. Edward Paquette in 1977 and 1978 while serving with him. He says it happened between 20 and 50 times in that period.

Paquette, who was suspended by the church in 1978 and now lives in Westfield, Mass., wasn’t named as a defendant in the suit, one of more than a dozen filed against the diocese over his actions in Vermont.

The man filed suit in 2005, and his lawyers showed jurors documents that showed former Bishop John Marshall knew of prior molestation allegations against Paquette during his stints in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Fall River, Mass., but hired him anyway.

Paquette was assigned to parishes in Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington and was accused of molesting boys in each.

The Waitsfield man’s lawyers urged jurors to award him up to $14 million in damages. But the church’s lawyers cast doubts on his claims of post traumatic stress disorder, sexual intimacy problems and lack of trust stemming from his experience with Paquette.

They also told jurors that the man had never sought counseling, and that he didn’t file suit until after learning about a raft of sexual abuse settlements in Boston in 2001.

The facts closely mirrored those of the man in the earlier trial, but Judge Matthew Katz barred any mention of the $8.7 million award to the jury in this case.

When church lawyer Tom McCormick made reference to it in his closing argument Monday, O’Neill moved for a mistrial but Katz refused the request.

“What he was trying to do is to get the jury to take a look at the determination in the last case and consider that one here, so they wouldn’t do the same thing,” said O’Neill. “Well, there are two problems with that. One is each case is determined individually. And second, the case is on appeal. We don’t know what’s going to happen in that case.”

The seven-woman, five-man jury struggled – with boredom and each other.

Just before closing arguments, one juror was dismissed because Katz said he’d been sleeping through much of the testimony. He was replaced.

Then the panel wrestled with how much in compensatory damages to award, eventually sending a note Tuesday to ask for help. But Katz told them it was an issue they had to decide.

On Wednesday, they said they were no longer making progress.

“You’ve given it your all, and that’s all we can ask of you,” Katz told them before dismissing them.

McCormick said he was encouraged by the result.

“Our perception was that the last trial was an aberration. To have a jury here not return the same verdict, with the same speed, is affirming to our position,” he said.

AP-ES-08-27-08 1513EDT

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