A former Catholic priest in Haverhill and Methuen who was a prominent figure in the clergy sex abuse scandal and who psychologists say admitted to molesting at least 14 boys was released Friday from state custody, officials said.
Ronald H. Paquin, 72, was freed after the two medical specialists determined he does not currently meet the legal criteria for sexual dangerousness, despite his history, the officials said.
Darren Duarte, a spokesman for the state Department of Correction, said Friday night that Paquin was released, but he was not authorized to say where he has gone.
Court records indicate that Paquin planned to go to “the new Long Island shelter” if released or “a shelter for older men” near Boston Medical Center before eventually moving to Maine, where he would seek sex offender treatment.
Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett’s office said Friday that prosecutors had to withdraw their bid to keep Paquin in custody after the experts’ finding.
“Our contention is that Mr. Paquin poses a danger to the community,” Blodgett said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we have no further legal options available to hold Mr. Paquin.”
Paquin pleaded guilty in Essex Superior Court in 2002 to charges that he repeatedly raped a Haverhill altar boy between 1989 and 1992, beginning when the victim was 12. Paquin was defrocked in 2004 and removed from his active ministry years earlier.
On Friday, victims’ advocates and one man who said he was abused by Paquin condemned the finding that led to his release.
“This is a tragedy,’’ said Michael Emerton, 49, who said Paquin sexually assaulted him at a Haverhill parish in the 1980s. “This puts everyone on notice to be vigilant and watch and monitor him now.”
Paquin completed his prison sentence in May, and Blodgett’s office sought to keep him civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, where he was being held.
But in reports completed last month and filed in Superior Court, psychologists Mark Schaefer and Robert H. Joss found that Paquin no longer meets the criteria for sexual dangerousness under state law, citing such factors as his age, the lack of concrete evidence that he has offended in the last 20 years, and medical issues that will likely “diminish his sexual interest.”
The psychologists also noted the abuse occurred when he had authority over his victims as a parish priest, a position he no longer holds.
Had either Schaefer or Joss deemed Paquin sexually dangerous, the case would have proceeded to trial, where a judge or jury would have decided whether to keep the former priest in custody.
Paquin was a key figure in the Boston Globe Spotlight Team investigative series that exposed the clergy sex-abuse scandal. The newspaper reported in 2002 that the Boston Archdiocese moved Paquin from a Methuen parish to a Haverhill church in 1981, apparently after learning about molestation allegations that were made against him.
In 2002, Paquin told the Globe that he “fooled around” with boys, but “never raped anyone and I never felt gratified myself.”
He later admitted to medical evaluators that he abused at least 14 boys and said he was also abused as a child, first by other youths and later by a priest, according to legal filings. He was convicted criminally only in the Haverhill altar boy case.
In a statement, David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on Cardinal Sean O’Malley to “use pulpit announcements, church bulletins and parish websites to beg other victims of Ronald Paquin to speak up and call police.”
Clohessy said his group doubts O’Malley will make such notifications, since that “would require doing more than the bare minimum.”
The archdiocese said in its own statement that it was disappointed by the Paquin ruling, “particularly with concern for Ronald Paquin’s victims and all others who have experienced the reprehensible crime of the sexual abuse of minors.”
Boston’s archdiocese said it reports all abuse allegations to law enforcement and remains committed to protecting children and helping victims.On Friday, the archdiocese sent its parishes an e-mail advisory informing them of the Paquin ruling.
Paquin’s lawyer during the most recent proceedings could not be reached for comment.
Kevin Reddington, the attorney who represented Paquin when he pleaded guilty in 2002, said he believes his former client should be released, since he accepted responsibility and served his time.
“They shouldn’t turn around and try to detain him for a life sentence,” he said.
But Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represented 12 men who settled civil abuse claims against Paquin, said in a statement that some of those clients are “having a difficult emotional time understanding why a serial pedophile as [Father] Ronald Paquin can now be given a free ticket to sexually abuse which he will no doubt do.”
One Haverhill teenager who was an alleged victim, James M. Francis, was killed in 1981 when he was riding in a car Paquin was driving that rolled over in New Hampshire.
Paquin was accused in a lawsuit of driving impaired during the accident and molesting Francis hours earlier, charges he denied.
Francis’s mother, Sheila Francis, said Friday that she was “horrified” to learn Paquin would be released.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “We’ve been through enough.”