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Spotlight Report

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Former Bellingham priest indicted

By David Arnold, Globe Staff, 4/13/2002

A former associate pastor at Assumption Parish in Bellingham was indicted yesterday by a Worcester County grand jury on charges that he molested 18 boys while serving at that church between 1978 and 1984.

It is one of the few cases in the sexual abuse scandal involving priests in which the statute of limitations will not hinder prosecution, because the retired priest had left the country shortly after the alleged assaults.

Extradition proceedings against Paul M. Desilets, 78, of Rigaud, Quebec, will begin immediately, according to law enforcement officials. They were alerted to the allegations in January, when a number of men came forward to report they had been sexually assaulted by the priest when they were boys. It's the second indictment in Massachusetts of a Roman Catholic priest since the January conviction of defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan.

''It's a first step. Now we have to get him back and into court. I won't feel justice until he's living in a little square cell made of cement, and he's as uncomfortable as he has made a lot of us,'' said James Corriveau, 34, of Bellingham, a former altar boy who was allegedly molested by Desilets.

The grand jury indicted Desilets on 27 counts of indecent assault and battery, 16 involving children under 14 years of age, Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said. Prosecutors said some of the children were as young as 8 when the assaults began.

In recent months, 20 men, including Corriveau and his brother, Brian, have filed civil suits against Desilets and the Archdiocese of Boston alleging that they were molested by the priest and church leaders did not intercede, according to Boston attorney Jeffrey A. Newman, who represents the victims.

''Some of Desilets' victims were very badly damaged,'' Newman said. ''Some of them have attempted suicide. And where did he go from here? Right up to Canada, where he oversaw youth programs.''

Neither Desilets nor a spokeswoman for the archdiocese could be reached for comment last night.

Desilets was raised in Canada and ordained as a priest in 1963 by the order of the Clerics of Saint Viator. He served as associate pastor at the Assumption Parish in Bellingham from 1974 to 1984, but he took an unexplained leave of absence in 1980.

The Corriveau brothers allege in their suit that the archdiocese transferred Desilets after learning of sexual abuse allegations against him. In 1984, Desilets left Bellingham for Rigaud, Quebec.

In February, the Woonsocket Call of Rhode Island located Desilets in Rigaud, and he told the paper: ''Alzheimer's was creeping up'' so he could not recall what happened in Bellingham. In another interview, he told the Boston Herald he recalled the names of some of his accusers but dismissed their allegations as ''exaggerations.'' Later, he asked: ''Isn't there a statute of limitations?''

In 1984, the statute of limitations for Desilets' alleged crimes was six years. The clock stopped because he went to Canada. So any crime from 1978 to 1984 can be prosecuted, according to law enforcement officials.

''I think of that man and I think of hate, depression, and evil,'' said James Corriveau, who stressed that the plaintiffs were not ''gold-diggers'' but people who want to see Desilets and the church brought to justice. He declined to elaborate on the details of the alleged abuse he says he suffered as an altar boy.

''I will say this,'' he added. ''It was sexual fondling in a sadistic manner.''

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2002.
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