Archdiocese of Detroit auxiliary bishop accused of sex abuse in lawsuit

Detroit News

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Published 6:19 a.m. ET Aug 2, 2022

A man is suing the new Archdiocese of Detroit auxiliary bishop amid claims the religious official sexually assaulted him more than 30 years ago in Massachusetts.

Paul F. Russell, then a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, is accused of abusing the 12-year-old an estimated 25 times in 1989-90, according to the civil lawsuit filed Monday in Boston’s Suffolk County Superior Court.

Archbishop Paul F. Russell in Detroit, July 7, 2022.

The alleged victim, listed as a John Doe, “has been seriously and permanently injured, and, at the present, continues to suffer from a psychological disease that impairs and affects all aspects of his life,” the court filing said.

Now in his 40s and living outside Massachusetts, the man “still has nightmares about this stuff,” his attorney, Carmen Durso, told The Detroit News.

Reached Monday night, Ned McGrath, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said Russell "is shocked and saddened by the claims that have been made, and states that his conscience is perfectly clear. He holds in prayer all those who have ever been victimized by a member of the clergy."

The youth volunteered at a food bank there and Russell lived in the rectory, where the priest “began to groom him and then sexually assaulted him,” Durso wrote.

The complaint also alleges the abuse occurred due to the negligent supervision of the parish supervisor. Archdiocese of Boston officials, who are also named in the suit, “should have known that defendant Russell was not fit to be retained in a position in which he would have access to young children.”

In 2002, the Boston Globe launched a series of reports that used church records to reveal that abusive clergy had long been transferred among parish assignments for years without alerting parents or police. The scandal, recounted in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” led to a U.S. clergy sex abuse crisis. 

Archdiocese of Boston representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case Monday night.

The Russell lawsuit came less than three months after Pope Francis named him the 31st auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit. A welcome Mass was celebrated last month.

Russell serves Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who leads the archdiocese and its more than 1 million Catholics in southeast Michigan.

He spent part of his youth in Michigan and was appointed Apostolic Nuncio, a Vatican diplomat, to Turkey and Turkmenistan in 2016.

Archbishop Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, then apostolic nuncio to Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, greets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Sept. 13, 2018.

The plaintiff in the Massachusetts lawsuit “did not have a clue” about Russell’s status and only reached out for legal help in recent years, Durso said. “Male victims of sexual abuse find it the most difficult to come forward and say these things.”

In a statement Monday, officials with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said they hoped the lawsuit would “help provide hope and healing to this victim and that it will also inspire others who have been hurt to come forward and make a report.”

The group added: “Given Bishop Russell’s high position in the Catholic Church … we believe true transparency and accountability will only come when the files on the clergyman held by the church are publicly disclosed.”

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