Lawyers for alleged victims of clergy sex-abuse entered the New Year Thursday armed with new ammunition for legal proceedings against the Roman Catholic Church.
For the first time, they have a confessed priest who is willing to testify about how leaders in the Archdiocese of Boston protected known abusers.
And in California, scores of lawsuits are expected to be filed under a new law that suspends the statute of limitations for a year on child sexual abuse crimes.
It was just a year ago the clergy sex-abuse scandal erupted in the Boston archdiocese and quickly spread around the country, resulting in the resignation last month of Cardinal Bernard Law as archbishop.
Internal church documents handed over under court order to attorneys for alleged victims disclosed dozens of molesting priests were transferred from parish to parish even though their superiors including Law and his top deputies were well aware of abuse allegations against them.
One of those priests, the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, 60, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of rape of a child. He was the first priest to plead guilty to criminal charges as a result of the scandal, and the first to agree to cooperate in civil suits against the archdiocese.
Paquin, who confessed to repeatedly molesting an altar boy and other children over four decades, was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.
Paquin will be a â€œgood witness in suits against the church, said his attorney, Kevin J. Reddington.
He must have significant information as to what was known to supervisors in the archdiocese, said attorney Jeffrey Newman, who represents more than a dozen plaintiffs who alleged they were molested by Paquin.
Newman said Paquin’s willingness to testify was an important development in resolving some 500 civil suits against the archdiocese.
Paquin, 60, was well known by top archdiocesan officials as a molester, according to church documents. He was sent to a facility for sexually abusive priests in 1990.
Despite numerous abuse complaints against him, Paquin was returned to priestly duties in 1998 by Law.
According to the documents, Paquin’s reinstatement was also supported by Law’s top aides Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y. though they were aware of allegations against him.
Paquin continued in his church duties until he was removed in 2000 when more complaints were filed against him.
In California, a new law went into effect on New Year’s Day that allows alleged abuse victims to sue institutions including the church that employed and protected alleged abusers. It suspends outright the statue of limitations on old claims for one year.
Church officials throughout California warned parishioners that the law â€œallows people to file lawsuits against dioceses and California employers based upon claims that arose many decades ago.
Alleged victims distributed leaflets through the state Wednesday, encouraging others to come forward.
Attorneys for some alleged victims reportedly were discussing the possibility of negotiating settlements with the church rather than immediately taking the civil suits to trial.
“Mediation is always better than conflict,” L.A. Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg told the Los Angeles Times. “The archdiocese believes that legitimate victims of sexual abuse by clergy deserve consideration of compensation for their suffering. This was true prior to the passage” of the new law “and it is true today.”