Angell, Priests Reflect on Abuse Cases

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(Host) In his Easter homily, Vermont Bishop Kenneth Angell addressed the sexual abuse scandal that has gripped the Catholic Church. Angell apologized for the conduct of some priests and asked Catholics not to despair.

Earlier this year, it was disclosed that the Boston Diocese had quietly settled sexual abuse claims against more than 70 priests. Since then, allegations of sexual misconduct have surfaced in other Diocese, including New Hampshire and Maine.

In Vermont, church and law enforcement officials say they have received a handful of reports of sexual abuse by priests. They say all involve alleged incidents dating back many years.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, priests in Vermont are feeling the repercussions of the sexual abuse scandal.

(Zind) In his Easter message, Bishop Angell wondered if the church had tried to guard its image out of pride and arrogance, and protected in his words sadly sick priests out of misplaced loyalty. The bishop told worshipers, “Wounded and unworthy as we may be, we are sorry.”

Vermont priests say the scandals have affected them. Father Charles Davignon of St. Mary’s Parish in Middlebury has talked about the issue of sexual abuse in his sermons. He says the incidents have been a blow to the morale of priests in Vermont:

(Davigonon) “Oh, I think it’s taking it’s toll. I think all of us are feeling embarrassed, ashamed, because somehow we get tainted. We get painted with that same brush. And they look on us askance and that’s embarrassing. It’s frightening.”

(Zind) Davignon says it’s important the church face up to pedophilia and not cover it up. Father Richard Myhalyk is Superior General of the Society of St. Edmund in Colchester. Myhalyk helps screen candidates for the priesthood. He says psychological testing is now part of the screening process:

(Myhalyk) “I can’t think of any that aren’t seriously concerned about taking good, strong measures to make sure that we admit good, strong candidates. I mean, nobody want to admit bad people.”

(Zind) Myhalyk says sexual abuse by priests has become an overriding concern in the last 15 years:

(Myhalyk) “It’s probably so much a preoccupation that we probably are rejecting people who don’t have that problem at all. But their maturity level with sexuality is somewhat doubtful, so we won’t accept them at all.”

(Zind) Myhalyk says the relationship of all priests to their parishioners has been damaged by the actions of a few. For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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