Priest removed amid charges reassigned others

Boston Herald/May 31, 2002
By Tom Mashberg

A priest removed from parish work amid multiple child-abuse allegations worked from 1996 until 2000 in the Archdiocese of Boston office in charge of clerical molesters, helping find new posts for the priests after they had been deemed unfit for ministry near children.

The Rev. C. Melvin Surette was ousted from his Cambridge parish in 1995 after settling several cases arising from his youth ministry work alongside another notorious molester, the Rev. Bernard J. Lane.

After a year's leave of absence, Surette was sent to work for Bernard Cardinal Law's delegate for problem clergy. Among those he found work for was the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, who was assigned to chaplain posts in Cambridge and Lynn in the late 1990s. Paquin is currently in jail on charges he abused a minor in Milton in 1990.

"Talk about the fox guarding the chicken coop,'' said Roderick MacLeish Jr., who in 1993 warned the archdiocese of Surette's actions, as well as those of Lane and Paquin, in a letter that led to the ouster of all three. "It comes as a huge surprise, give the gravity of the allegations and settlements against him, that he would have been put in any position of such responsibility.''

Surette could not be reached for comment. The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a church spokesman, said that Surette's role was limited to helping priests find new work, and that he was under strict oversight.

"His job was to help those in his category, who could not be in ministry involving minors,'' he said. "He had no contact with victims.''

In a July 9, 1998, memo on Paquin, the Rev. William F. Murphy, Law's personnel delegate at the time, wrote to Law, "Through the efforts of Fr. Mel Surette, Fr. Ron Paquin has been accepted at Youville Heath Center . . . as part-time chaplain.'' A year earlier, Surette was named in a letter from Law as someone who would help Paquin find "a situation'' that suited him.

By fall 2000, Law ordered Paquin be removed from Youville.

In his warning to the church in 1993, which came as a result of multiple settlements for Surette accusers, MacLeish detailed how both Surette and Lane, as priests with the Alpha-Omega program for troubled teens in Littleton in the 1970s, engaged in an "alarming and far-reaching'' pattern of child molestation involving "systematic abuse of a great many young men.''

Coyne said Surette's name is among the 70 turned over to law enforcement since January as part of the church's recent embrace of mandatory reporting guidelines.

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