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Spotlight Report

Spotlight Report   FOLLOW-UP

Suit ties boy's death to abuse by priest

By Stephen Kurkjian and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 4/11/2002

The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin is the only Boston Archdiocese priest who has pleaded guilty to charges of child sexual abuse.  
Coverage of the Paquin case
HAVERHILL - It was three years before Jimmy Francis died a horrible death in 1981 that Robert P. Bartlett complained to the pastor of St. Monica's Church in Methuen that the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin had molested Bartlett and other teenage boys.

It was in December 1980, less than a year before Francis's death on a New Hampshire highway, that Bartlett said the pastor, the Rev. Allen E. Roche, told him he had taken care of the matter.

In April 1981, Paquin was removed from St. Monica's and sent by the Archdiocese of Boston, which appears to have known about the molestations, to minister to parishioners at St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill.

In November 1981, Jimmy Francis was 16, returning in the pre-dawn hours from a New Hampshire outing with Paquin and three other boys from the Haverhill parish when their car rolled over on Interstate 93, ostensibly because the road was icy. Francis was pinned beneath the car and died of asphyxiation.

But according to a Boston Globe Spotlight Team inquiry and a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed today, the road was not icy at all. Paquin had been drinking heavily and fell asleep at the wheel. And just a few hours earlier, Paquin had crawled into Jimmy Francis's sleeping bag and molested him, according to the lawsuit.

The widening sex abuse scandal that has enveloped the archdiocese includes a growing number of adult victims who are still shaking off the effects of the abuse they suffered at the hands of priests when they were minors.

But James Francis is the first person believed to have died as a result of the alleged misbehavior of a priest. What's more, another priest who talked to Roche and a retired Methuen police detective said they believe the archdiocese was aware of Paquin's sexual abuse when they transferred him to Haverhill.

''It's a tough thing, to find out about all this 20 years later,'' Francis's mother, Sheila, said this week. ''It's like a death all over again.''

Her son's death did nothing to stem Paquin's sexual appetite for boys. Nine years after Francis was buried, Paquin was removed from St. John's, but only after an intensive effort by the Rev. Frederick E. Sweeney. Sweeney began hearing complaints about Paquin's behavior soon after he arrived at the parish to be pastor in 1989.

Although Sweeney declined to be interviewed, those familiar with his account said that top deputies to Cardinal Bernard F. Law initially turned aside his pleas that something be done.

The Globe reported last month that three years after Paquin's removal in 1990, he was living in a Milton facility where the archdiocese sequestered priests who had molested children, and was repeatedly having sex at the facility with a teenage boy he had begun molesting in 1988, according to another lawsuit.

In a January interview, Paquin admitted that he had molested young boys at both parishes, but denied that Jimmy Francis was among them or that he was inebriated at the time of the car crash. In the 1990s, the archdiocese made monetary settlements to settle several sexual abuse claims against Paquin. Eight additional lawsuits have been filed recently.

In the last week, Paquin, who is now 59 and retired, did not return calls or respond to a letter left at his Malden home. Donna M. Morrissey, the archdiocesan spokeswoman, said last night that she could not comment on the issue because there is pending litigation.

Jeffrey A. Newman, the attorney representing the parents, Sheila and Harold Francis, asserted in the lawsuit that the archdiocese ''breached'' its duty to the parents by allowing Paquin, ''a known pedophile who had engaged in predatory sex with minors in his parish, to remain a priest where he could continue to prey upon children to satisfy his unbridled sexual desires.''

By the accounts of Bartlett and others, Paquin should have been stopped two decades earlier.

Bartlett, 37, of Methuen, said he told Roche about 1978 that Paquin was fondling two other teenagers who had just entered Paquin's upstairs rectory bedroom. In an interview, Bartlett said he told Roche that he knew Paquin was molesting the boys ''`because it just happened to me.' ... Father Roche stormed upstairs and I left.''

Two years later, around Christmas 1980, Bartlett said, Roche approached him as he was about to enter the church for a Sunday Mass and told him that he had taken care of the matter ''right away.'' Bartlett, who said he was molested by Paquin numerous times over six years during the 1970s, is one of at least four men who have won settlements from the archdiocese in recent years for Paquin's abuse.

Roche, who died in 1998, did not tell Bartlett what he had done with the information. But two individuals - another priest at St. Monica's and the Methuen police officer in charge of sexual assaults - told the Globe last week that they believe Roche relayed the complaints to the archdiocese.

The Rev. James M. Carroll, who served at St. Monica's as an associate pastor from 1980 and 1992, said he told Roche in the mid-1980s that a parishioner had told him that Paquin had been molesting youths while assigned to the Methuen church.

''Fr. Roche told me that he had already taken care of it,'' Carroll said. Although Roche did not spell out what action he had taken, Carroll said: ''To me that meant he had informed the archdiocese.''

William E. Rayno, who headed the sexual assault unit of the Methuen Police Department, said he never spoke directly to Roche about it, but he heard from others that Roche informed the archdiocese on two occasions about credible allegations of inappropriate conduct by Paquin.

Not long after Paquin was transferred to Haverhill in 1981, Harold Francis recalled earlier this year, he became suspicious about the priest and asked his son if the priest had touched him. No, Jimmy told him.

But that Thanksgiving weekend in 1981, Paquin took Jimmy Francis and three younger boys from the parish in his Lincoln Continental to a chalet in Bethlehem, N.H., where he gave the boys liquor. According to the lawsuit, and accounts provided to the Globe, at least one of the others who was there saw Paquin crawl into Francis's sleeping bag. The boy, now fully grown, asked not to be identified.

Paquin and the boys were drinking until 1 or 2 in the morning, and left to return to Massachusetts within a few hours. According to Sheila Francis, the same witness told her last Sunday that Paquin twice fell asleep at the wheel. The second time, she said, Francis grabbed the wheel in a futile attempt to keep the car from going off the road.

He died, pinned under the car in Tilton, N.H. One of the three other boys was seriously injured. Paquin and the remaining two boys escaped with minor injuries.

''The truth hurts, and now the grieving has begun again,'' Sheila Francis said. To learn now that the church apparently knew about Paquin but still sent him to Haverhill, she said, ''shatters my faith.''

Paquin said the funeral Mass several days later.

When Sweeney arrived at St. John's eight years later, he soon discovered that Paquin was still molesting boys, according to sources familiar with Sweeney's account.

Sweeney relayed to Bishop Alfred C. Hughes, then head of the archdiocese's parishes in the Merrimack region, that several parishioners had told him their concerns, the sources said. Paquin was spending too much free time with youths, taking them out to dinner, spending weekends with them on the Cape and New Hampshire, and paying them for routine jobs, Sweeney told Hughes.

Hughes's response to Sweeney: Provide me someone who will make a formal complaint. Hughes, who is now archbishop of New Orleans, did not respond this week to questions.

After consulting his brother, a judge, Sweeney located his witness. Through the intervention of a parishioner, a man in his early 20s told Sweeney that he had been molested by Paquin on numerous occasions starting in 1982.

The first incident took place that February, less than three months after the accident. And Paquin used his sadness over the Francis's death to coax the youth into his bed at the rectory, said the alleged victim, who asked that his name not be used.

Sweeney again called Hughes, who told him to contact the Rev. John B. McCormack, then head of ministerial services for the archdiocese. A meeting was quickly arranged at a nearby church between McCormack, the youth, and his parishioner friend.

McCormack, who is now the bishop of the diocese in Manchester, N.H., declined to be interviewed, but said through a spokesman that he could not recall the meeting.

However, according to the alleged victim, during the session he provided McCormack details of his abuse by Paquin.

''I told him, `I want to tell you about the priest who abused me and many, many others,''' said the Haverhill man. ''I told him he was buying liquor for kids, letting them drive his car underaged, taking them to New Hampshire and the Cape, and all to molest them.''

McCormack appeared unfazed by the information and, according to the young man, said to him after 20 minutes, ''How much are you looking for?'' He said the question left him stunned, since he merely wanted McCormack to have Paquin removed from the priesthood or at least placed in a position where he did not have access to minors.

If Paquin were kept in place, the alleged victim said he told McCormack, he would take his information to the local newspaper. That got McCormack's attention: ''Consider it done, boys,'' he said, according to the Haverhill man.

Within weeks, Paquin was sent for four months to Maryland's St. Luke Center, a Catholic treatment facility for priests with sexual problems. But when Paquin returned, he was assigned as a chaplain at Bon Secours Hospital in Methuen. And he was living in a rectory at St. Joseph in Lincoln.

Sweeney was furious when he learned that the archdiocese had sent Paquin to work so close to the two churches where he allegedly abused youths for nearly 20 years, according to individuals familiar with the case. They said Sweeney protested to church superiors and within weeks, Paquin was put on sick leave and sent to live at the facility for priests in Milton.

However, before Paquin left, Bartlett, one of the several youths he had abused at St. Monica's in Methuen, encountered him at the hospital. ''I told him him that what he had done sickened me,'' Bartlett recalled. ''He didn't seem bothered at all. He just looked at me and said, `It felt good, didn't it?'''

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/11/2002.
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