The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin pleaded guilty yesterday to three counts of child rape and was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison, becoming the first Boston Archdiocese priest to admit guilt in a criminal molestation case since the sex abuse scandal exploded in January.
Boston attorney Jeffrey A. Newman, who represents the victim in the case, described the turn of events as a ”major step” in resolving an estimated 500 pending abuse claims against the archdiocese, since Paquin has agreed to testify against the church in many of those cases.
Paquin, an admitted child molester, was not removed from active ministry until two years ago, even though the archdiocese received at least 18 complaints in two decades that he had sexually abused young boys.
Newman, whose law firm represents about 300 of the additional alleged victims, said he expects Paquin to be a ”key player” in providing information about the archdiocese’s practice of transferring abusive priests. Paquin’s defense attorney, Kevin Reddington, confirmed that Paquin ”will be available to testify” in pending civil cases ”against the almighty Roman Catholic Church.”
The rapes Paquin admitted to were among at least 50 sexual assaults involving a young Haverhill boy between 1990 and 1992 in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine while Paquin was an associate pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill, prosecutors said. Paquin befriended the youth, an altar boy at the church whose parents were divorced, by buying him gifts, giving him alcohol, and taking him on out-of-state shopping and camping trips. After cultivating an emotional bond with the boy, Paquin gradually introduced sex into the relationship, at one point saying he was doing a study on the sexuality of young males. The boy was 12 at the time of the first sexual assault.
In a statement he read in court, the victim, who is now in his mid-20s, married, and living in Peabody, said Paquin ”took my fragile life and used my lack of self-esteem, my problems with my parents, my childhood, and my innocence” to his advantage. ”It’s amazing when I think back how foolish, how ignorant, and how innocent I was. You abused your title of `Father,”’ the man said. ”I know your religion says you are a priest forever, but you do not deserve to ever call yourself father or priest.”
Paquin, 60, his wrists and ankles shackled, wore thick black-rimmed glasses, a dark blue denim jacket, and a casual shirt and pants, and remained expressionless throughout the proceeding in Salem Superior Court.
After announcing Paquin’s sentence, which he will serve at MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Bohn Jr., noting that Paquin has said he was abused by a priest when he was young, said he hoped Paquin, upon his release, ”would do everything he could to help break this pattern of sexual abuse that has been passed to him.”
Paquin, who acknowledged to reporters in January that he had sexually abused several boys, remains the subject of at least 28 civil lawsuits, according to Newman. Paquin also faces a wrongful death claim alleging that he was drinking when he caused a 1981 car accident that killed one Haverhill teenager, 16-year-old James M. Francis, and badly injured another.
At least 18 abuse complaints about Paquin were reported to the archdiocese and at least six claims against him were settled by the church for amounts totaling more than $500,000, according to church documents made public this year and interviews by the Globe. Most of the allegations are beyond the statute of limitations, preventing prosecutors from bringing criminal charges.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law reinstated Paquin to priestly duties as recently as 1998, and several of Law’s former top aides including current Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and current Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y. supported his return to ministry, even though they knew about multiple allegations against him. And despite Paquin’s checkered history, the archdiocese paid him a severance package of nearly $80,000 last year.
Paquin, who was ordained in 1973, started his career at St. Monica’s Church in Methuen, where he was in charge of the altar boys, Boy Scouts, and Catholic Youth Organization, and allegedly began abusing young boys immediately, according to church records and interviews with former parishioners. He was transferred to Haverhill in 1981.
In 1990, after years of warnings that Paquin was molesting children in Methuen and Haverhill, the archdiocese sent him for extended treatment at the St. Luke Institute, a Maryland facility for sexually abusive priests. Upon his return to Massachusetts, Paquin lived at Our Lady’s Hall, a home for problem priests in Milton, where he continued to sexually abuse one of his victims. From there, with McCormack’s consent, Paquin was assigned as a chaplain at Bon Secours Hospital in Methuen while he lived in a rectory at St. Joseph in Lincoln. In September 1992, an adult male whom Paquin had met at the hospital filed a complaint against him with the archdiocese for alleged inappropriate behavior.
Not until 2000, when church officials received several more complaints, including one from a Dracut man who threatened to notify the media that Paquin was still working as a priest, was Paquin removed.
The sentence Bohn imposed exceeded Reddington’s recommendation of between 6 and 10 years in prison, but was less than the 30 to 40 years recommended by Essex Assistant District Attorney William E. Fallon. After yesterday’s hearing, Fallon said of Paquin: ”This is a person who should not see the light of day.” Paquin will be required to register as a sex offender upon his release.