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Spotlight Report

Asked to help, priest allegedly abused

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 06/05/02

See newly released documents

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Asked for help, priest abused

Scott Coon was the fortunate one. He got away.

After the Rev. Paul M. Desilets, a priest at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, had allegedly molested him from the age of 8 until he was 17, Coon told the church's pastor, the Rev. Richard O. Matte, what had happened. But instead of comforting him, internal church documents released yesterday show, Matte told him to take his clothes off. Coon ran out of the rectory.

"I couldn't believe what he said," Coon recalls. "I just bolted."

Coon's instinctive reaction may have saved him from a worse fate.

According to the documents, another boy had no such luck. That teenager had gone to Matte to confide in him after allegedly being assaulted at St. Joseph's Church in Malden by another parish priest, the Rev. Richard A. Buntel. The boy told Matte that Buntel had exposed him to alcohol, cocaine, and violent pornography, a seduction that began when he was 14 and resulted in him being sexually abused. Matte's response to the boy's plea for help was to sexually assault him, according to a letter sent to archdiocesan attorneys in August 1994 by attorney Robert A. Sherman.

The Archdiocese of Boston later gave the alleged victim $52,000 to settle a lawsuit he brought against Buntel and Matte.

The documents made public yesterday suggest that besides targeting minors, Matte was also a hypocrite. It was Matte who blew the whistle on Desilets after altar boys began complaining to him when he took over as pastor at Assumption in 1985. In October 1985, Matte wrote to Desilets' superiors in Canada, where Desilets' order is located.

"After many hours of prayer and `agony' I find myself forced, by circumstances, to write to you about a problem that I inherited upon assuming the pastorate of Assumption Parish," Matte wrote.

While praising Desilets as a "truly wonderful" priest who was especially dedicated to the sick and elderly, Matte added, "I have been approached by several altar boys who have the same story to tell! It seems that Father Paul had the habit of `touching' them in an indecent manner ... I am sorry to have to bring this to your attention and I hope that you understand my agony in having to write this letter to you."

The Rev. Roger Brousseau, Desilets' superior in Quebec, wrote back to Matte, thanking him.

"We pray that all the good Father Paul has done in your parish of the Assumption will compensate for the few indelicate gestures he might have done," Brousseau wrote. "May God help you in healing the young boys who might have been hurt."

Matte's alleged victims were often altar boys, from parishes stretching across the archdiocese, in Pepperell, Salem, Malden, Methuen, and Lowell.

Matte also allegedly abused boys at Xaverian High School in Westwood, where he was chaplain. A church document shows that one victim was his nephew.

Another document alleges that he fondled a 14-year-old girl who sought his counsel after her father died.

All the while, Matte kept up the appearance of a caring priest who was deeply committed to helping children. In January 1986, he wrote to Bishop Robert J. Banks, telling him that 11 of Desilets' victims had confided in him.

"I deeply appreciate the pastoral care and concern that you are showing for the youngsters and the families involved," Banks responded in February 1986.

The bishop then wrote Desilets' superiors, to reassure them that "Father Matte is a very serious and responsible priest. His report ... should be taken very seriously."

Matte, who is retired and living in South Dennis, did not return a call seeking comment. Desilets is awaiting trial on charges that he molested 18 boys in Bellingham between 1978 and 1984. He is one of the few priests to face criminal charges; that is because his leaving Massachusetts in 1984 froze the statute of limitations.

Buntel, who had been removed as a parish priest and was working as business manager for St. Thomas of Villanova Church in Wilmington, was one of six priests who were abruptly removed from their posts in February after Cardinal Law announced a zero-tolerance policy for priests accused of sexual misconduct.

The documents indicate that archdiocese officials began investigating Matte in 1992, apparently after Bishop Alfred Hughes received an anonymous letter from a Lowell woman who complained about Matte's behavior with boys at St. Louis Church.

The documents suggest that Matte exploited the youngsters' sense of shame and guilt. After allegedly raping a 13-year-old from Pepperell, Matte told the boy if he told anyone "he would go straight to hell," according to a lawsuit filed against Matte in Suffolk County in 1994.

In November 1993, the archdiocese's review board recommended that Matte be removed from active ministry.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 6/5/2002.
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