DETROIT — Archbishop Paul F. Russell, Detroit’s newest auxiliary bishop, will refrain from public ministry following an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor dating to his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston more than 30 years ago.
Archbishop Russell strongly denied the allegation Aug. 2.
A lawsuit filed Aug. 1 in Massachusetts’ Suffolk County Superior Court accuses then-Father Russell of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy “approximately 25 times” in 1989-90, during his time as associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Lynn, Massachusetts.
The lawsuit also names as defendants the Archdiocese of Boston and another priest who was pastor of Sacred Heart at the time.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Detroit — which is not named in the lawsuit — said 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.”
Archbishop Russell was appointed by Pope Francis as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit May 23 and was formally inaugurated in that post July 7 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
He spent nearly 30 years as a Vatican diplomat, including most recently as apostolic nuncio to Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. He began his ministry as a priest in 1987 after being ordained in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Archdiocese of Detroit in a statement said “it was not aware of any allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Russell” until “being contacted by media” Aug. 1.
“Effective immediately, Archbishop Russell is refraining from all public ministry, and will continue (to) until further directed by the Holy See,” the archdiocese said. “The canonical (church law) guidelines, as provided by the Holy See, are being followed.”
“The Archdiocese of Detroit offers its prayers for all victims of clerical abuse and their families,” the statement added.
According to the lawsuit, the alleged abuse took place while the plaintiff, listed as “John Doe,” was a volunteer at the parish food bank, where then-Father Russell also worked.
The lawsuit says the alleged victim, who today is in his 40s, “did not understand he had been harmed” at the time, but has since sought “psychological treatment and therapy” related to the alleged abuse.
The Archdiocese of Boston had not yet commented on the matter.
Archbishop Russell was born May 2, 1959, in Greenfield, Massachusetts, but spent a majority of his childhood growing up in northern Michigan. He returned to the Archdiocese of Boston to pursue the priesthood and was ordained June 20, 1987, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.
His first assignment was at Sacred Heart Parish in Lynn from 1987-92. He served briefly as associate pastor of St. Eulalia Parish in Winchester, Massachusetts, before being asked to serve as priest-secretary to Boston’s cardinal archbishop.
In 1993, then-Father Russell entered Vatican’s diplomatic service and spent the next 29 years serving as a diplomat in several countries, including Ethiopia, Turkey, Switzerland, Nigeria and Taiwan.
In 2016, Pope Francis named him apostolic nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan, an assignment that carried with it his elevation to the episcopate.
Archbishop Russell was ordained a bishop on June 3, 2016, by Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. In 2018, the pope added Azerbaijan to Archbishop Russell’s responsibilities.
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Detroit Catholic is the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit.