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Parents Sue Archdiocese Over Son's Death

Apr 11, 2002 | WCVB A wrongful death suit is being filed Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court against the Archdiocese of Boston. A Haverhill, Mass., couple, is alleging that new documents show the local Catholic Church could have prevented their son's death more than 20 years ago.

NewsCenter 5's Gail Huff reported that Sheila and Harold Francis said Jimmy Francis' death could have been prevented if the archdiocese had removed a priest at least a decade earlier than it did.

His parents learned this week that the night before his death in a November 28, 1981 car accident, their son, who was 16 years old at the time, was plied with alcohol and sexually abused by a priest, Fr. Ronald Paquin.

"The wounds have reopened, the hurt has come back," Sheila Francis said, while announcing their lawsuit, which claims that her son would be alive today if the archdiocese had "acted responsibly" and removed Paquin when they learned a decade earlier that he was molesting children, which he admitted to church officials.

Jimmy Francis had gone away for a camp weekend in New Hampshire with Paquin and three other boys. While returning home, Paquin allegedly fell asleep at the wheel. Francis was killed in the Tilton, N.H., crash.

"He fell asleep and the vehicle overturned, crushing Jimmy Francis, Mr. and Mrs. Francis' son. It has now been learned that their son James was actually sexually molested by Paquin on the night before this incident occurred," attorney Jeffrey Neumann said.

Neumann said the archdiocese knew that Paquin had been accused of sexually abusing minors at St. Monica's Parish in Methuen, Mass., and had sexually molested children at St. John's Parish in Haverhill, Mass., after being transferred there from Methuen. The lawsuit claims intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Paquin, an admitted child abuser, has apologized in the newspaper, never naming his victims but offering them a collective apology. He has never apologized to the Francis family. Four other families have settled with the archdiocese over Paquin abuse cases.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) has sent out a letter calling for Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop since 1984, to step down. It said in a March letter to its members that Law should take an ambassadorial position within the church to try to help the archdiocese deal with the sex abuse scandal.

Now the organization wants Law to resign altogether.

"To the extent that anyone is hoping that we can move on, and get to a new playing field, every day and every minute, every week, does matter," said MSPCC Chairman Bill Achtmeyer.

At Catholic Boston College, there is word that officials are hoping Law will bow out of his traditional benediction at the school's graduation ceremonies May 20, so as to avoid protests against him that would disrupt the day's events.

As for Jimmy Francis mother, she said, "I always found it hard to go to the cemetery, but maybe I might just visit this week. Who knows? I don't plan far ahead. I just take one day at a time."

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