May 12, 2005

‘Father Hands’ forgets

Telegram & Gazette

Dianne Williamson


They called him Father Hands back then, the young boys of Bellingham who yesterday filled two rows in Room 204 of Worcester Superior Court.

They are adults now, some with families, all with memories of a predatory priest who stood before them yesterday a broken old man, sick and gaunt, telling a judge he remembered the faces of only half of the boys he sexually abused in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Sometimes I forget,” the Rev. Paul M. Desilets told Superior Court Judge Timothy Hillman, when asked if he was confused about any of the questions posed to him.

“You don’t remember the victims?” Judge Hillman asked.

“No,” the retired priest replied softly.

“You don’t remember any of them?”

The priest paused. “Some.”

Judge Hillman continued to probe, gently and painstakingly, in an effort to determine whether the 82-year-old priest was competent to plead guilty to 32 counts of sexual abuse involving 18 former altar boys.

“Is it that you don’t remember the individuals or you don’t remember the conduct?”

“I don’t remember the individuals.”

“Do you remember the conduct?”


“Do you remember some of them?” the judge asked. “How many?”

“It’s very difficult,” the priest replied.

It was very difficult, watching the wheels of justice spin circles around a defendant as old and as sick as Paul Desilets. When he shuffled into court, handcuffed and wearing a dark-blue prison jumper, he looked more like a survivor of Auschwitz than the perpetrator of crimes against children. His eyes were sunken and his chin was covered with thin white stubble. Mouth agape and head bowed, he could barely keep his eyes open on the witness stand and at one point Judge Hillman mouthed “Is he awake?” to the defendant’s lawyer, Dennis J. Kelly.

“Mr. Desilets, are you still with us?” Judge Hillman asked. As was his habit, the priest looked to his lawyer for prompting before saying yes.

He takes 10 medications a day, the names of which he can’t recall, the priest told the judge. He suffers from diabetes and the effects of childhood polio. On April 27, he was taken from the Worcester County Jail to an undisclosed area hospital, but was later returned to his cell. He was arraigned last month in a wheelchair via video feed from the jail.

The young boys from Bellingham are grown men now, but for them, time has stopped. They don’t see the priest as a frail old man who needed help from a court officer to negotiate the witness stand. Instead, they see the powerful priest who sexually abused them for years, before Mass and after funerals, in a room off the altar at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Bellingham. They see his smile. They hear his warning that they’d burn in hell if they told.

Unlike the Rev. Desilets, they remember everything.

“I just look past his infirmities and remember him the way he was — a big, mean, bullying man,” said James Corriveau, 37, one of two brothers who said they were abused by the priest for seven years, beginning at age 9. “We’ve been scarred forever by what he did. I don’t feel any pity for him.”

His brother, Brian Corriveau, said the boys never told on the priest but would talk among themselves and inquire: “Did you get attacked by Father Hands today?” It was only four years ago, after his uncle returned from a trip to Canada and said he had seen the priest, that Brian revealed the boys’ secrets. More victims came forward. In 2002, the Rev. Desilets was indicted by a Worcester grand jury and later arrested in Canada, where he was living in a retirement home in Quebec.

Yesterday, Judge Hillman sentenced the priest to 1 to 1-1/2 years in state prison. His lawyer, Mr. Kelly, told the judge that his client wanted to apologize for his behavior.

“I’m sorry for what happened,” the priest said softly.

“You might want to say that to the people in back of you, not to me,” Judge Hillman said.

So the Rev. Paul Desilets dutifully turned to the men in the first two rows, to the boys he remembered and the boys whose faces he can’t recall.

“I’m sorry for what happened,” he said again.

One of the men had tears in his eyes. The rest stared back at their now-feeble tormenter before filing silently out of the courtroom, engrossed in their private thoughts, no longer helpless against the priest they once called Father Hands.

“He haunted my dreams for years,” Brian Corriveau said. “As young boys, we never felt there was anything we could do. Now, something’s been done. I just can’t believe this day has actually come.”

Dianne Williamson can be reached by e-mail at

Posted by kshaw at May 12, 2005 05:18 AM