Cardinal Bernard F. Law reinstated the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin to priestly duties as recently as 1998, despite numerous detailed complaints of molestation against the priest and substantial monetary settlements to Paquin’s accusers, according to internal church documents made available to the Globe.
According to the documents, between 1990 and 1996 there were 13 complaints to the archdiocese alleging sexual misbehavior by Paquin over the previous two decades. The accusations were filled with grim detail about how Paquin allegedly plied boys with gifts and liquor before molesting and orally raping them - charges that prompted the church to make payments to his victims.
The behavior was found to be so repugnant and the pattern of abuse so clear that a church review board and a top deputy to Law urged that Paquin be dismissed from the priesthood, though they later changed their minds and said he should be given a second chance.
In 1990, after years of warnings that Paquin was molesting children in Methuen and Haverhill, the archdiocese had removed him as associate pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill. Paquin was sent for extended treatment in Maryland, then lived at a home for problem priests in Milton.
The documents show that Law’s 1998 decision allowing Paquin to return to duty as a chaplain at a Cambridge hospital was made at the urging of another priest who had himself been removed from parish work for allegedly molesting children.
A Catholic group opposes a “zero tolerance” policy for priests. A28.
“I know that there have been some very difficult moments for you,” Law wrote to Paquin in a July 11, 1998 letter. “I trust that your own continued vigilance and support of competent professionals will allow you to begin a new phase of ministry in the Archdiocese.”
Paquin was warned that he could not work with minors, and the hospital, Youville Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Cambridge, was informed of his background.
Law’s letter came six months after he had defrocked the Rev. John J. Geoghan, the since-convicted child molester whose case touched off the clergy sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church.
Paquin’s reinstatement is one in a string of decisions, by Law and his top deputies, that permitted some priests with records of serial sexual misconduct to return to active ministry after being found out and treated. In Paquin’s case, the reassignment was permitted under the sexual abuse policy that Law promulgated in 1993. It remained in place until Law declared a “zero tolerance” policy in January.
But the documents show the church knew that Paquin had been the target of multiple complaints of sex abuse. In one 1995 letter, the Rev. Brian M. Flatley, an aide to Law, wrote to the cardinal that the father of one Paquin victim “is in contact with other victims of Father Paquin (although he seems unaware of just how many there are.)”
Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, declined comment on the Paquin documents, saying the case is in litigation.
Law’s letter to Paquin was among hundreds of pages of church documents obtained during litigation by Jeffrey A. Newman, a Boston lawyer who represents several of Paquin’s victims in lawsuits against the archdiocese. Newman obtained the documents last month and has a motion before the court to put the documents on record.
Before Law reassigned Paquin as a chaplain, the archdiocese had already settled six of the 13 reported molestation cases for more than $500,000 according to the documents and interviews by the Globe.
It was not until 2000 that Paquin was permanently removed from service, after the archdiocese received several more complaints of past abuse against him, including one from a Dracut man who expressed dismay that Paquin was still working as a priest, and threatened to go to the press, according to the documents.
Paquin, 59, was indicted on three counts of rape of a child on May 15 and is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail in Essex County House of Correction. At Paquin’s arraignment, Essex Assistant District Attorney William E. Fallon said Paquin established a relationship of trust with the alleged victim and his family, and took advantage of it to molest the youth beginning when he was 11, in 1989. Paquin has pleaded not guilty.
The documents confirm a report by the Globe in April that Paquin’s superiors suspected or knew about his sexual exploitation of youngsters for years before anything was done. But the records also show that one superior, who had received complaints from three people about Paquin and assured them he would notify the archdiocese, did not do so.
The Rev. Allen E. Roche, the pastor at St. Monica’s Church in Methuen, where Paquin was an associate pastor for eight years after his 1973 ordination, is quoted in an archdiocesan memorandum as saying he never informed the archdiocese even though he had heard repeated reports that Paquin had taken young boys to his rectory bedroom.
According to a memorandum prepared by Sister Rita V. McCarthy, a Chancery official who investigated allegations against priests, Roche told her two years before his death in 1997 “that he had not liked the idea” of Paquin taking boys to his room, and he told her that at least one youth had complained to him that Paquin molested him in the room.
Roche said he was nearing retirement, according to the memo, and decided to do nothing about his concerns. McCarthy also wrote that the same boy who complained to Roche also told the Rev. James M. Carroll of the incident. Carroll, who had taken Paquin’s place at St. Monica’s, relayed the information to Roche, but according to McCarthy, “again nothing was done.”
The same memo also cites a 1981 auto accident, after Paquin’s transfer to Haverhill, in which one of four teenage boys Paquin took to a New Hampshire ski chalet died after Paquin lost control of the car on a New Hampshire highway. Roche again considered telling the archdiocese about the earlier allegations, but, McCarthy wrote, “The timing was not right so nothing was done at that time.”
The Globe reported in April that three people quoted Roche as saying that he had passed on complaints to the archdiocese. The three included a parishioner who had served as the sexual assault officer for the Methuen Police Department; Robert Bartlett, one of Paquin’s alleged victims; and Carroll.
In 1988, the Rev. Frederick E. Sweeney became suspicious about Paquin’s involvement with boys soon after taking over as pastor of St. John’s in Haverhill, where Paquin had been working as associate pastor since 1981.
Three months after complaining to archdiocesan officials about Paquin, two young men, one of whom had allegedly been abused by Paquin, approached Sweeney with information about the priest.
After they also met with the Rev. John B. McCormack, who headed the archdiocese’s office of clergy abuse, McCormack informed Paquin in September 1990 that he was being removed from St. John’s Church and sent for treatment to St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland.
According to the documents, McCormack, who is now bishop of the Manchester, N.H., diocese, allowed Paquin to return to Methuen after his treatment to take courses on training to become a hospital chaplain. Even though he was officially listed by the archdiocese as being on sick leave, Paquin continued to study at Bon Secours Hospital in Methuen in 1991 and 1992 and was ministering to patients.
“Two weeks ago, I covered the entire week for Fr. Frank Murphy while he went on vacation,” Paquin wrote in March 1992. “I became the hospital chaplain and I was proud of the good job I did. It was a great teachable moment for me.”
A few months later, in September 1992, an adult male whom Paquin had met at the hospital filed a complaint against him with the archdiocese for alleged inappropriate behavior.
Several months later, McCormack was approached by another youth who alleged that he had been abused by Paquin years earlier, beginning when he was a preteen at St. Monica’s and continuing to the time he entered St. John’s Seminary. In addition to detailing the abuse he suffered, the seminarian told McCormack that Paquin had taken up with another youth from the Haverhill area while studying to become a hospital chaplain.
When confronted with the allegations, Paquin acknowledged to McCormack that “he had done things wrong in the past,” one memo said, but asserted he had not abused any youths since undergoing treatment at St. Luke’s in 1990 and 1991 and was not molesting the Haverhill youth.
There is reason now to doubt that account. The person whom Paquin is charged with raping - from 1989 to June 30, 1992 - in the indictments issued by the Essex County grand jury was the Haverhill youth whom McCormack had told Paquin to stay away from.
Through a spokesman, McCormack said he remembered recommending that Paquin leave the priesthood, but without the documents in front of him, he could recall little beyond that.
Paquin remained on sick leave through much of the 1990s. And as the archdiocese fielded - and settled - the formal complaints of sexual misconduct against him, some of his superiors expressed misgivings about Paquin remaining a priest.
After being notified by a Brockton man that Paquin had allegedly abused his son and nephew, who had AIDS, Flatley, then Law’s delegate handling allegations of clergy abuse, approached Law’s top deputy, Bishop William F. Murphy, in March 1996. “Bishop Murphy was very clear in his insistence that it is time for Father Paquin to move away from the priesthood,” Flatley wrote in a memorandum.
But Paquin began to press to be returned to ministry. The archdiocese wanted him either to leave the priesthood altogether or at least give up his lay job working at a CVS pharmacy in Milton, because it was putting him in contact with children.
Flatley, after fielding a complaint from another past victim of Paquin, wrote in a March 28, 1996 memo that “it is irresponsible for the Archdiocese to allow him to be working where there are young people [at CVS], given his history.”
Paquin refused to leave the priesthood but agreed to leave the CVS job if the archdiocese would consider allowing him to return to work as a priest. He was no longer at risk, he assured church officials: He had not been accused of molesting boys for years and was enrolled in an “after-care” treatment program.
It was while he was working at CVS, and residing at Our Lady’s Hall, a Milton residential facility for troubled priests, that Paquin was allegedly bringing a teenage Haverhill boy into Our Lady’s Hall numerous times for sexual encounters, according to a lawsuit against Paquin. That claim involves the same person Paquin is now criminally accused of raping.
Yet in a meeting in January 1997, Paquin proposed to Bishop Murphy that he be allowed to work with the Rev. C. Melvin Surette, then a research assistant with the office handling clergy abuse, “in finding employment within the Church,” Murphy wrote.
Even though he had stated less than a year earlier that Paquin should leave the priesthood because of the mounting complaints against him, Murphy now wrote of Paquin’s request to return to ministry: “I would be very supportive of this.”
Murphy, now a bishop in Rockville Centre on Long Island, N.Y., declined comment.
He was not the only archdiocesan official willing to give Paquin another chance. The Archdiocese’s Review Board, a panel charged with investigating sex abuse allegations against priests and recommending action to the cardinal, had recommended in 1994 that Paquin seek “laicization.” But in May 1997, it voted to let him work again as a priest as long as it “does not put him in contact with minors.”
By September, Surette told his superiors that he had placed Paquin as a chaplain at an archdiocese-sponsored elderly nursing home in Lynn. A few months later, Surette had found a more prestigious assignment for him, as chaplain at the Youville Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, a position that would pay him $1,716 a month, $300 above what church pastors were receiving.
In 1994, before Surette was assigned to the archdiocese’s office dealing with clergy abuse, the archdiocese settled a lawsuit that accused Surette of abusing youths at Alpha Omega, a church-run treatment center for troubled teenage boys in Littleton. Through his lawyer, Surette has denied the allegation, but in recent weeks three other former occupants of the home have filed suit alleging that Surette abused them during the time they spent at Alpha Omega.
Law gave the archdiocese’s official approval of the Paquin reassignment with his July 1998 letter to the priest. “I am confident of your ability to minister competently and compassionately to the community at Youville,” the cardinal wrote.
However, two years later, Law withdrew that support. Between May 1999 and September 2000, the archdiocese received five new complaints from men who alleged that they had been abused by Paquin in the 1970s and 1980s, when they were teenagers.
Among the complaints was one from a 38-year old Dracut man who told the archdiocese that he was “shocked” to hear that Paquin was still acting as a priest and chaplain, and demanded to be paid $250,000 or he would take his case to the press.
Within months, at the Review Board’s recommendation, Law told Paquin that he was removing him from Youville and taking away his official authority as a priest. In December 2000, Law wrote the Vatican asking that Paquin be defrocked.
“Father Paquin has engaged in sexual molestation of numerous boys since and before he was ordained” and 18 cases have already been reported to the archdiocese, Law wrote Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state for the Vatican. “It is my judgment that he is the cause, potential and actual, of grave scandal.”