priest, sentenced to prison
By Gary V. Murray TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
May 12, 2005
WORCESTER, MA He could not recall the names or faces of
all of the 18 men who have accused him of sexually assaulting them
more than 20 years ago, when they were altar boys at Our Lady of
the Assumption parish in Bellingham and he was the associate pastor.
But 82-year-old retired priest Paul M. Desilets said he did remember
the unlawful conduct that led to the charges against him.
Rev. Desilets was sentenced to 1 to 1-1/2 years in state prison
yesterday, after pleading guilty in Worcester Superior Court to
16 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age
of 14, 10 counts of indecent assault and battery and 6 counts of
assault and battery.
In addition to imposing the prison sentence, Judge Timothy S. Hillman
placed Rev. Desilets on probation for 10 years, to begin upon his
release from custody. The sentence handed down was recommended by
Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. Travers and Rev. Desilets
lawyer, Dennis J. Kelly.
Gaunt, unshaven and reportedly in poor health, Rev. Desilets appeared
to nod off at times during the court proceedings, prompting Judge
Hillman to ask on more than one occasion if he was awake and understood
what he was doing. Rev. Desilets responded affirmatively and his
lawyer reassured the court that his client was fully cognizant of
what was going on, despite being a little tired.
Rev. Desilets was indicted in 2002, and was extradited from Canada
April 22 to face the sexual assault charges. He was ordered held
on $100,000 cash bail after his return. While in custody, he was
hospitalized, reportedly suffering from diabetes and the effects
of childhood polio.
The offenses to which he pleaded guilty yesterday occurred from
1978 to 1984, while Rev. Desilets was assigned to the Bellingham
parish. Mr. Travers said the 18 victims were sexually assaulted
by Rev. Desilets on or around church property.
Had the case gone to trial, Mr. Travers told the judge, the victims
would have testified that Rev. Desilets sexually assaulted them
by touching their buttocks and genitals, either over or under their
clothing. The prosecutor said the victims, who were identified only
by their initials and dates of birth, did not consent to the priests
Several of the victims were in court yesterday. One read from a
poem titled The Betrayal, that he said he had written
and dedicated to the survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Youve
shattered young lives at the cost of your soul
This is something
even the angels can never forgive.
Another victim read from an impact statement in which he decried
what he said was the great injustice he had suffered
at the hands of Rev. Desilets and the Catholic church. I have
lost faith in the Catholic church, but I have not lost faith in
In urging Judge Hillman to adopt the sentence he and Mr. Travers
had proposed, Mr. Kelly said his client wished to accept responsibility
for his misconduct. Mr. Kelly said there have been no similar allegations
against Rev. Desilets since his move to Canada in 1985.
Rev. Desilets also apologized to the court and to his victims,
saying in a barely audible voice, Im sorry for what
One victim later said the apology meant little to him and that
he felt no sense of closure from Rev. Desilets guilty pleas.
I have a lot of empathy for old people, but for him I have
no empathy. Hes been haunting my dreams for years, said
another victim. He said he was 9 years old when he was first molested
by Rev. Desilets.
Rev. Desilets was given credit for 17 days he spent in custody
while his case was pending. As conditions of probation, he was ordered
to have no contact with the victims, and no unsupervised contact
with anyone under the age of 18. He was also ordered to register
as a sex offender and to undergo any sex-offender counseling deemed
appropriate by the Probation Department.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of Survivors Network
of Those Abuse by Priests, lauded the efforts made by law enforcement
to extradite Rev. Desilets. We also hope that this move will
inspire other prosecutors to more aggressively seek the extradition
of dozens of other proven, admitted and credibly accused abusive
priests who have fled the country.
Mr. Clohessy said the organization, which supports and advocates
for victims of clergy abuse, is grateful that Rev. Desilets pleaded
guilty, and hopes this provides some comfort and consolation
to his victims and their families.
The director, who is also a clergy abuse survivor, said they hope
that other alleged victims of Rev. Desilets come forward and
get the healing they need and deserve.
He said there is no magic age when a serial predator
stops molesting minors. He urged people to remain vigilant
around the priest. Even very elderly molesters have been caught
Kathleen A. Shaw of the Telegram & Gazette staff contributed
to this report