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Spotlight Report

Spotlight Report   FOLLOW-UP

Priest says he, too, molested boys

By Sacha Pfeiffer and Steve Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 1/26/2002


Rev. Ronald H. Paquin

 In-depth
The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin is the only Boston Archdiocese priest who has pleaded guilty to charges of child sexual abuse.  
Coverage of the Paquin case

His name appears in the thousands of pages of documents about former priest John J. Geoghan, with the strong hint that he, too, abused children. He left his own trail of victims in parishes in Methuen and Haverhill over 15 years, until the Archdiocese of Boston removed him from active ministry in 1990.

And last night, the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin acknowledged to a Globe reporter that he had molested boys in both communities until 1989. In the soft-spoken voice of a man broken by events, he said he himself was raped by a Catholic priest when he was growing up in Salem.

"Sure, I fooled around. But I never raped anyone and I never felt gratified myself," Paquin said in an interview in the living room of his apartment in a community north of Boston. "I've gone 12 years and haven't abused anyone, so I'm not a pedophile because I'm not a predator."

But Paquin, now 59, left an ugly imprint in both the Methuen and Haverhill parishes, the Globe found, and the archdiocese has paid settlements to at least four of his victims -- one of whom was suicidal after Paquin molested him.

Soon after the church transferred him from Methuen to Haverhill in 1981, Paquin attracted public attention again. In November 1981, the car he was driving rolled over on a New Hampshire interstate, killing James M. Francis, one of four Haverhill teenagers who had accompanied him on a weekend outing.

Around 1990, Paquin was removed from St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill after the archdiocese was told he had molested children there, according to both Paquin and Sheila A. Francis, the dead boy's mother.

Mrs. Francis said in an interview yesterday that she believes her son would be alive today if the church had taken action against Paquin instead of transferring him, from St. Monica's in Methuen to Haverhill, months before the car crash.

"It shatters my own faith," she said.

Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, could not be reached for comment last night.

In an emotional interview last night, Paquin said he has not been in a parish assignment since 1990, when he was yanked from the Haverhill parish. He was then sent to St. Luke Institute, a Maryland treatment center for sexually abusive priests, for 41/2 months, and has been on sick leave since, he said.

Paquin said he has been subsidized by the archdiocese until recently, when he was dropped from the payroll and forced to get a job, one that pays him just $10 an hour.

Like Geoghan before him, Paquin said the church is now moving to defrock him, and he expressed bitterness at the way the church has treated him -- even after the archdiocese acknowledged knowing that he had been molested by his own hometown priest.

Explaining how he came to molest boys, Paquin said his psychiatrist told him "I had the sexuality of a 13-year-old. I was stuck as a 13-year-old. Whenever I felt pressure, I would hang around with the 13-year-old kids."

He said he has lived on his own for the past four years, renting apartments in Cambridge and elsewhere, although the archdiocese's directories state that he was a chaplain assigned to archdiocesan headquarters until 1999.

Paquin said he was raped by three older boys when he was 11, and his father died when he was 13. Then came years of abuse by a priest in Salem, whom he refused to identify.

Despite Paquin's admissions, he is unlikely to face criminal charges when the Archdiocese of Boston turns over to authorities evidence about priests who have sexually abused minors. That's because his case, and probably those of others, will fall outside the criminal statute of limitations.

Among Paquin's victims was a teenage Methuen boy he molested in the mid-1970s, prompting the archdiocese to pay a monetary settlement to the victim nearly 20 years later. The victim, now 38, disclosed the abuse too late to bring criminal charges.

Mrs. Francis, the mother of the boy who died in the 1981 car crash, said she does not know to this day whether her son was molested by Paquin. But her husband, Harold F. Francis, said he was suspicious enough about Paquin that before the accident he asked his son if Paquin had touched him. The boy said he had not.

One of the three others injured in the car crash, who is in his mid-30s now and asked not to be identified, said last night that Paquin had a lot to drink before the 6:30 a.m. accident. Paquin last night called that accident "the other tragedy of my life," but he insisted he was sober when it happened.

According to a 1981 account of the accident in the Haverhill Gazette, Paquin planned the outing as a reward to the four boys, who had helped launch a church youth group. Paquin told the newspaper they were "originally planning to spend only one night at the private chalet in Bethlehem, but because the boys enjoyed it so much, they decided to stay Friday night as well."

According to archdiocesan directories, Paquin was working as a chaplain in 1999. In the most recent directory, which includes retired priests, Paquin's name has been removed.

From about 1990 to 1998, Paquin is listed as "unassigned," "awaiting assignment," or on "sick leave."

And although public church documents don't reflect it, other public records show that Paquin lived for a time at Our Lady's Hall in Milton, a retreat house for alcoholic priests that church officials have acknowledged also provides "transitional housing" for priests who have been removed from parishes following allegations or admissions of sexual misconduct.

Paquin, who was ordained in 1973, started his career at St. Monica's, where he was in charge of the altar boys, Boy Scouts, and Catholic Youth Organization, church directories show. Paquin began abusing young boys immediately, according to Jack Regan, the father of one of Paquin's victims.

Regan said he is aware of at least three other boys, in addition to his son, who were molested by Paquin. All three boys have received settlements, according to Regan and others who are knowledgeable about the agreements.

Other than Regan's son, Paquin asserted, he molested "several" other boys.

According to Regan, Paquin abused his son from roughly 1974 to 1977, beginning when he was 11 and continuing until he was about 14. When his son turned 18, he became suicidal and voluntarily admitted himself to to a psychiatric hospital in New Hampshire, Regan said.

The boy didn't disclose the abuse to his father until he was about 21, and he waited another decade to contact a lawyer.

"I thought something was wrong because he was having trouble in school, and he seemed to be a very unhappy kid," Regan said, recalling his son's teenage years. "But I couldn't figure him out ... I didn't know what the hell was going on."

The fatal auto accident prompted no legal action. The survivor interviewed yesterday said they headed south in New Hampshire very early after "a very late night of drinking, and getting up very early." The man said that Paquin also provided alcohol to the boys, who ranged in age from 13 to 17.

The man said he was not abused by Paquin, and does not believe the others were that weekend in 1981.

Paquin's name surfaces among the thousands of pages of church documents filed in connection with the 84 civil lawsuits against Geoghan, which were made public last week after a legal motion by the Globe.

In a Jan. 4, 1993, memo to Bishop Alfred Hughes, the Rev. John McCormack writes, "Regarding the funding for Fr. Geoghan's salary, there are no moneys in the Office for Senior Priests budget. My suggestion is that we follow the precedent of funding for [another priest] and Fr. Paquin and seek funds from the Clergy Fund under Special Cases."

The new church policy to report past clergy sex abuse to authorities provides little solace to Sheila Francis, whose son was 17 when he died on that wintry Saturday morning.

Francis said yesterday that her family did not know for certain until 1989 or 1990 that Paquin had molested boys. That is when the incoming pastor, the Rev. Frederick E. Sweeney, told her he had forwarded abuse complaints to the archdiocese, she said.

Sweeney is in Florida on vacation, according to Rev. Edmund P. Charest, who is filling in at the Haverhill church.

"It's been 20 years since we lost Jimmy. I'm very bitter," said Mrs. Francis. Now that she knows that Paquin also abused children in Methuen, she said, she assumes that -- much like Geoghan -- Paquin was shuttled to her parish after complaints surfaced in Methuen.

If the church had acted against Paquin in Methuen, she said, "my boy would still be alive."

Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this article.


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