April 02, 2006

17 abuse suits filed against Vermont diocese

Times Argus

April 2, 2006

By KEVIN O'CONNOR Staff Writer

Leaders of Vermont's Catholic Church face a daunting question: Do they settle 17 new priest misconduct lawsuits for up to $1 million, or do they try to fight the charges in a string of headline-grabbing trials set to start the day after Easter?

Burlington attorney Jerome O'Neill has filed civil lawsuits in Chittenden Superior Court on behalf of 17 clients, charging five former Vermont priests with child sexual abuse.

O'Neill, chairman of the Burlington Police Commission and a former federal prosecutor, has a track record of winning cases against the church. The lawyer compelled the diocese to settle one similar case in 2004 for a $150,000 cash payment the largest such agreement in state history and another the same year for $120,000.

The church, having seen the nearby Boston Archdiocese pay more than $85 million to settle its own sex-abuse lawsuits, hoped it had seen the last of O'Neill. But the latest round of Vermont cases promises to dwarf the publicity and payoffs sparked by the four previous lawsuits he has settled with the diocese in the past decade.

Twelve of the 17 current lawsuits involve child sexual abuse charges against Edward Paquette, a former priest who worked in Burlington, Montpelier and Rutland from 1972 to 1978.

Posted by kshaw at April 2, 2006 09:30 AM