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Detroit Archbishop Accused of Abusing a Minor in Massachusetts Parish

Archbishop Paul Russell, a Detroit auxiliary bishop, is the subject of a sexual abuse lawsuit filed in Massachusetts.  The lawsuit stems from sexual abuse that occurred when the survivors was a 12-year-old parishioner at Saint Mary of the Sacred Heart Parish in Lynn in 1989 and 1990.  The lawsuit alleges that he was sexually assaulted by by Paul Fitzpatrick Russell, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Boston.

It’s not common that an archbishop is also an auxiliary bishop.  In this case, it stems from the fact that Russell entered the Vatican diplomatic corps six years after his ordination to the priesthood.  Prior to becoming a papal diplomat, Russell served as an associate pastor in parishes within the Archdiocese of Boston including Saint Mary of the Sacred Heart in Lynn.  In 1992, he was briefly named associate pastor of St. Eulalia Parish in Winchester, Mass.; however, three days into his assignment, he was asked to become priest-secretary to Boston’s cardinal-archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law.  In 1993, while serving as Cardinal Law’s secretary, then-Fr. Russell was asked to enter the diplomatic service of the Holy See, and was sent to study at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, which trains Vatican diplomats.

On March 19, 2016, Pope Francis announced he was naming Msgr. Russell as apostolic nuncio — the Vatican’s top ambassador — to Turkey and Turkmenistan, an assignment that carried with it his elevation to the episcopate. At the same time, the pope named him titular bishop of Novi, Montenegro.

As a papal diplomat, Russell has close ties to Pope Francis.

The plaintiff met Russell when he volunteered at the parish food bank, according to the lawsuit. Russell invited the boy back to the parish rectory where he “began to groom him” before sexually assaulting him, the suit said.

The man turned to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism, considered suicide, sought mental health treatment, and still experiences flashbacks as well as feelings of guilt and shame, according to court documents.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a church accountability and victim support group, called on the church to release its records on Russell.

“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,” the group said in a statement.

The allegations are another serious blow to the Catholic Church, especially since given Russell’s pedigree (doctorate in canon law and papal nuncio), he seemed to be destined for high ecclesiastical office in the United States.

Of course, Russell is not the first archbishop to find himself personally mired in the sexual abuse crisis.  Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is facing criminal charges and civil lawsuits relating to his decades of predation on minors and young adult men.

The Russell case demonstrates once again that power and influence are correlated to the sexual abuse crisis haunting the Catholic Church.  High placed Catholic officials such as cardinals, archbishops, and bishops have themselves been accused of abusing children.

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis

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