Vermont Jury Awards $3.6M to Victim in Priest Sex Abuse Case

December 19, 2008

A Vermont jury has awarded a former altar boy nearly $3.6 million because the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington didn’t protect him from an abusive priest in the 1970s.

The Chittenden County Superior Court jury returned the verdict against the diocese after a two-week trial and 13 hours of deliberations in the lawsuit filed by David Navari, 43, of Takoma Park, Md.

“A jury of 12 Vermonters has seen all the evidence and I’m confident that they voted with their conscience,” Navari said after the jury was returned.

He then said that if the diocese would put photos of priests credibly charged with abuse on its Web site, defrock them, and stop paying their retirement, “I will take all the award money from this case and put it into a trust for needy parents to send their kids to Catholic schools in the Burlington area.”

Burlington Bishop Salvatore Matano apologized for the abuse that happened decades ago.

“Thirty-seven years ago today I was ordained a priest. And at that time I never expected to be dealing with these kinds of situations,” Matano said. “I am doing the best that I can to deal with them in the most just and charitable way possible.”

Matano said church lawyers would be willing to hear more about Navari’s offer to give the money to Catholic school children.

Navari said he was groped on two separate occasions by former Vermont priest Edward Paquette when Navari was a boy.

Paquette was not on trial. Rather, Navari charged the diocese failed to protect him from Paquette even though church officials knew of sexual abuse allegations against the priest. In a similar case earlier this year a jury awarded a victim $8.75 million. A second case this year ended in a hung jury.

The earlier award was appealed and diocesan attorney Tom McCormick indicated the church would most likely appeal Wednesday’s verdict.

In the case that ended Wednesday, the jury awarded $192,500 in compensation and $3.4 million in punitive damages.

That verdict brings to more than $12 million the money the church owes in a series of similar Vermont lawsuits — and it still has 25 more to go.

Nineteen of those suits involve retired priest Edward Paquette, who is accused of molesting boys while serving in parishes in Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington during the 1970s.

A judge already has placed a lien against the diocesan headquarters in Burlington. The property overlooking Lake Champlain is valued at more than $11 million.

More church property is expected to be given similar treatment as a result of Wednesday’s verdict.

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