Archbishop Russell denies sexual abuse allegation dating to ministry in Boston

Archbishop Paul F. Russell is pictured during his inauguration Mass as a Detroit auxiliary bishop July 7 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. A lawsuit filed Aug. 1 in Massachusetts contains allegations of sexual abuse against Archbishop Russell dating to 1989-90, when he was a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Boston. Archbishop Russell, who denies the allegations, will refrain from public ministry as the claims are investigated, the Archdiocese of Detroit said Aug. 2. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

New Detroit auxiliary bishop to refrain from public ministry as claim investigated, says he's 'shocked and saddened' by lawsuit

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, an allegation the archbishop strongly denied Aug. 2.

A lawsuit filed Aug. 1 in Massachusetts’ Suffolk County Superior Court accuses then-Fr. 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, Mass.

The lawsuit also names the Archdiocese of Boston and another priest who was then-pastor of Sacred Heart as defendants.

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 on May 23, and began serving in that role July 7 after 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 said it had not been made aware of any allegations of misconduct against Archbishop Russell prior to Monday.

“The Archdiocese of Detroit was not aware of any allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Russell until it was contacted by media Monday, August 1,” the statement said. “Effective immediately, Archbishop Russell is refraining from all public ministry, and will continue until further directed by the Holy See. 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.”

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-Fr. 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 yet to comment on the matter as of publication.

Archbishop Russell was born May 2, 1959, in Greenfield, Mass., but spent a majority of his childhood growing up in northern Michigan. He returned to the Archdiocese of Boston to pursue the priesthood, being 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, Mass., before being asked to serve as priest-secretary to Boston’s cardinal archbishop.

In 1993, then-Fr. Russell entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See, 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 Sean P. O’Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. In 2018, the pope added Azerbaijan to Archbishop Russell’s responsibilities.

On May 23, 2022, Pope Francis named Archbishop Russell as the 31st auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He was formally inaugurated in that post on July 7, 2022, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Reporting abuse

Individuals with knowledge of sexual abuse by clergy or other Church representatives are urged to contact local law enforcement and/or the Michigan Attorney General’s Office at (844) 324-3374 or [email protected] Individuals also may contact the Archdiocese of Detroit by visiting, calling the toll-free, 24/7 victim assistance line at (866) 343-8055 or by emailing [email protected] There are no time limits or restrictions on individuals wishing to report abuse.