May 12, 2005

Desilets sentence is 1 to 1-1/2 years

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— He could not recall the names or faces of all of the 18 men who have accused him of sexually assaulting them more than 20 years ago, when they were altar boys at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Bellingham and he was the associate pastor.

But 82-year-old retired priest Paul M. Desilets said he did remember the unlawful conduct that led to the charges against him.

Rev. Desilets was sentenced to 1 to 1-1/2 years in state prison yesterday, after pleading guilty in Worcester Superior Court to 16 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14, 10 counts of indecent assault and battery and 6 counts of assault and battery.

In addition to imposing the prison sentence, Judge Timothy S. Hillman placed Rev. Desilets on probation for 10 years, to begin upon his release from custody. The sentence handed down was recommended by Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. Travers and Rev. Desilets’ lawyer, Dennis J. Kelly.

Gaunt, unshaven and reportedly in poor health, Rev. Desilets appeared to nod off at times during the court proceedings, prompting Judge Hillman to ask on more than one occasion if he was awake and understood what he was doing. Rev. Desilets responded affirmatively and his lawyer reassured the court that his client was fully cognizant of what was going on, despite being “a little tired.”

Rev. Desilets was indicted in 2002, and was extradited from Canada April 22 to face the sexual assault charges. He was ordered held on $100,000 cash bail after his return. While in custody, he was hospitalized, reportedly suffering from diabetes and the effects of childhood polio.

The offenses to which he pleaded guilty yesterday occurred from 1978 to 1984, while Rev. Desilets was assigned to the Bellingham parish. Mr. Travers said the 18 victims were sexually assaulted by Rev. Desilets “on or around church property.”

Had the case gone to trial, Mr. Travers told the judge, the victims would have testified that Rev. Desilets sexually assaulted them by touching their buttocks and genitals, either over or under their clothing. The prosecutor said the victims, who were identified only by their initials and dates of birth, did not consent to the priest’s sexual advances.

Several of the victims were in court yesterday. One read from a poem titled “The Betrayal,” that he said he had written and dedicated to the survivors of clergy sexual abuse. “You’ve shattered young lives at the cost of your soul … This is something even the angels can never forgive.”

Another victim read from an impact statement in which he decried what he said was the “great injustice” he had suffered at the hands of Rev. Desilets and the Catholic church. “I have lost faith in the Catholic church, but I have not lost faith in God.”

In urging Judge Hillman to adopt the sentence he and Mr. Travers had proposed, Mr. Kelly said his client wished to accept responsibility for his misconduct. Mr. Kelly said there have been no similar allegations against Rev. Desilets since his move to Canada in 1985.

Rev. Desilets also apologized to the court and to his victims, saying in a barely audible voice, “I’m sorry for what happened.”

One victim later said the apology meant little to him and that he felt no sense of closure from Rev. Desilets’ guilty pleas.

“I have a lot of empathy for old people, but for him I have no empathy. He’s been haunting my dreams for years,” said another victim. He said he was 9 years old when he was first molested by Rev. Desilets.

Rev. Desilets was given credit for 17 days he spent in custody while his case was pending. As conditions of probation, he was ordered to have no contact with the victims, and no unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 18. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender and to undergo any sex-offender counseling deemed appropriate by the Probation Department.

David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abuse by Priests, lauded the efforts made by law enforcement to extradite Rev. Desilets. “We also hope that this move will inspire other prosecutors to more aggressively seek the extradition of dozens of other proven, admitted and credibly accused abusive priests who have fled the country.”

Mr. Clohessy said the organization, which supports and advocates for victims of clergy abuse, is grateful that Rev. Desilets pleaded guilty, “and hopes this provides some comfort and consolation to his victims and their families.”

The director, who is also a clergy abuse survivor, said they hope that other alleged victims of Rev. Desilets come forward “and get the healing they need and deserve.”

He said there is no “magic age” when a serial predator stops molesting minors. He urged people to “remain vigilant” around the priest. “Even very elderly molesters have been caught hurting children.”

Kathleen A. Shaw of the Telegram & Gazette staff contributed to this report

Posted by kshaw at May 12, 2005 05:14 AM