Detroit auxiliary bishop denies allegation of sexually abusing minor

Archbishop Paul Fitzpatrick Russell. Archbishop Paul Fitzpatrick Russell. | Courtesy of

Archbishop Paul Russell, an auxiliary bishop of Detroit and a former Vatican diplomat, has been named in a civil lawsuit alleging he sexually abused a minor more than 30 years ago while a priest in Massachusetts.

Russell, 63, denies the charges, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the Archdiocese of Detroit. The statement said Russell would refrain from public ministry until further notice from the Vatican.

Russell was appointed auxiliary bishop of Detroit in May, and he was installed July 7. Though an auxiliary, he retains the personal title of archbishop.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 1 in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. It was first reported Tuesday by the Detroit News.

The unidentified plaintiff was 12 years old when he met Russell — then a priest assigned to St. Mary of the Sacred Heart Parish in Lynn, Massachusetts — at the parish’s food bank, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff was sexually assaulted 25 times in 1989 and 1990, the lawsuit states.

“The sexual assaults began with hugging and kissing, then genital fondling, and proceeded to mutual masturbation, forced oral copulation, and then anal penetration,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit also names the "Archbishop of Boston" and Ronald J. Gariboldi, identified as the pastor of St. Mary of the Sacred Heart Parish at the time of the alleged assaults.

The Archdiocese of Detroit issued a statement Tuesday in response to the lawsuit.

“Archbishop Russell is shocked and saddened by the claims that have been made, and states that they are without merit. He holds in prayer all those who have ever been victimized by a member of the clergy,” the statement said.

“Effective immediately, Archbishop Russell is refraining from all public ministry, and will continue until further directed by the Holy See,” the statement continued, adding that the guidelines of canon law “are being followed.”

The Detroit Archdiocese noted that it “was not aware of any allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Russell until it was contacted by media Monday, August 1.”

Russell was born in 1959 in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He studied at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston and gained a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston on June 20, 1987. After serving as associate pastor at St. Mary of the Sacred Heart for five years, Russell became priest-secretary to the Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, according to the Detroit Catholic newspaper.

Russell entered the Vatican diplomatic service in 1997, serving in the Section for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, as well as in Ethiopia, Turkey, Switzerland, and Nigeria, and as head of the diplomatic mission to Taiwan.

In 2016 he was apostolic nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan, and was consecrated a bishop.

He was appointed, in addition, apostolic nuncio to Azerbaijan in 2018.

Russell resigned from the nunciatures in 2021.

Editor's note: This story was corrected on Aug. 4, 2022, to note that it was the Detroit News that first reported on the filing of the lawsuit.

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