Priest pleads guilty in sex abuse case

Associated Press/May 11, 2005

Worcester, Mass. -- A retired Roman Catholic priest who was extradited from Canada to face sex abuse charges pleaded guilty on Wednesday to molesting 18 altar boys and was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison.

The Rev. Paul Desilets, 81, who is diabetic and suffers from an illness caused by childhood polio, admitted to 32 assault and battery charges. Judge Timothy Hillman also sentenced him to 10 years' probation following his release.

"Father Desilets did what he did to accept responsibility for his conduct," said his lawyer, Dennis Kelly. "It's a sad day for everyone involved."

Desilets, who appeared weak and gaunt during his arraignment on April 25, was hospitalized a few days later, but officials would not say why. He returned to prison a week later, Kelly said.

Kelly said his client should be physically able to endure his prison sentence.

"It's not going to be like being in a priest's residence for the elderly," he said.

Desilets was indicted in April 2002 on charges of molesting 18 altar boys between 1978 and 1984 at Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Bellingham.

He had been living in Canada since 1984, when he moved to a retirement home for clergy in Joliette, Quebec.

He was arrested there in October 2002 at the request of U.S. authorities, and a Canadian judge's extradition order was upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal in February. The case moved to the Supreme Court of Canada, but Desilets abandoned the appeal on April 7.

"It's been a long haul for the victims," said Worcester District Attorney John Conte, who said 16 of Desilets victims were comfortable with the plea deal. The two others could not be reached, he said.

"A lot of this was victim-driven," Conte said. "And given (Desilets') age and circumstances, what we came up with was a just punishment."

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