BURLINGTON, Vt. – Vermont’s Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington agreed Wednesday to settle 11 priest sexual abuse lawsuits moments before the trial in one of those cases was set to get under way in federal court in Burlington.
The other cases were preparing to go to trial in Chittenden County Superior Court. The first of those had been scheduled for March.
“We settled it,” Burlington lawyer Jerome O’Neill, the lead attorney for the alleged victims in the cases, said Wednesday. “It was a negotiation that had been going on for a long time, and the diocese this morning accepted our demand and agreed to pay it.”
O’Neill and Tom McCormick, a lawyer for the diocese, did not disclose the details of the settlement.
McCormick said the settlement came after the diocese reached an agreement settling a separate lawsuit with its insurer.
“The bishop, in consultation with his board of advisers, authorized the settlement,” McCormick told The Burlington Free Press. (http://bfpne.ws/UKYX7A)
The case that had been set to begin Wednesday involved claims by a man who, as a 12-year-old boy, said he was fondled two or three times by the Rev. Edward Paquette in Rutland in 1974.
Nine of the 11 cases settled Wednesday involved alleged abuse by Paquette of altar boys between 1972 and 1978, when he was banished by the diocese after parents of altar boys complained to then-Bishop John Marshall about Paquette’s conduct. Paquette was later defrocked by the Vatican.
Wednesday’s settlement was the second reached by the diocese in three years. Three years ago the diocese agreed to pay $17.6 million to settle 26 lawsuits alleging molestation of children by priests. Of those, 19 identified Paquette as the alleged molester.
Paquette, who now lives in Westfield, Mass., was not named as a defendant in any of the current cases. Rather, the lawsuits alleged the diocese knew Paquette had a history of molesting boys when it hired him anyway.
Paquette had previously served parishes in Massachusetts and in South Bend, Elkhart and Decatur, Ind.