Large Jury Verdicts against Vermont Diocese
By Mike Stetzer
The Roman Catholic diocese in Burlington, Vt. has allowed more clergy sexual abuse lawsuits go to trial than any other jurisdiction.
In December, a jury in a Chittenden Superior Court trial awarded David Navari $3.6 million. Navari, who is now 43, claimed that in 1977 when he was an altar boy, Rev. Edward Paquette of Christ the King Church in Burlington molested him on two occasions.
According to the Burlington Free Press, Navari's case was the second to result in a multi-million dollar verdict against the diocese in 2008.
In May, a different jury awarded a Colorado man $8.7 million. The man said that Paquette had
molested him between 20 and 50 times while he was an altar boy at the same church.
In August, another clergy sexual abuse trial ended with a deadlocked jury and was declared a mistrial.
In December 2007, a jury awarded James Turner $15,000. Turner claimed that Rev. Alfred Willis, a diocesan priest during the late 1970s, molested him in 1977 in a New York motel.
Terry McKiernan, founder of Bishopaccountability.org, an Internet entity that tracks nationwide priest sexual abuse cases, told the Burlington Free Press that he’s not aware of any other jurisdiction in the country that has had so many Catholic priest abuse cases brought to trial.
Clergy Sex Abuse Cases Rarely Go to Trial
According to McKiernan, only 35 of the 3,000 cases alleging sexual abuse of children by priests have gone to trial and ended with a jury verdict. Four of those cases took place in Vermont during the past 13 months.
Many of the clergy sexual abuse cases in Vermont involve the same priest, Paquette. In addition, McKiernan notes that injury lawyers the same law firm, O’Neill, Kellner & Green of Burlington, represents many of the alleged victims.
These factors, along with a diocese that is willing to allow the cases to go to trial may be one reason that there are so many clergy sexual abuse cases in Vermont.
Personal Injury Lawyers Take Action
To date, O’Neill, Kellner & Green has filed 32 cases on behalf of clergy sexual abuse victims. Twenty-two of these cases involved Paquette as the alleged abuser.
Because so many of the clergy sexual abuse cases in Vermont involve Paquette and the accounts of the alleged molestations are nearly identical, lawyers have been able to fine-tune their case against the diocese. The firm continues to file new cases.
All 32 cases list the diocese as the sole defendant. Diocesan documents show that it had information that that Paquette had molested children in Massachusetts and Indiana, yet still hired
him in 1972 and brought him to Vermont.
Paquette was banished from the diocese in 1978 after a group of parents complained to then-Bishop John Marshall that he was molesting their sons.
The Diocese’s Legal Strategy
Bishop Salvatore Matano has indicated that, going forward, there may be changes in diocese's legal strategy. Because of the two multi-million dollar jury verdicts, liens have been placed on the diocese's headquarters and nearby land. The diocese may reconsider having another clergy sexual abuse case decided by a jury.