Bishop Angell Returns to VT to Address Abuse Policy

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(Host) The Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has decided to cut short a two-week vacation and return to Vermont. The Bishop plans to meet with Church leaders to determine how the Burlington Diocese should respond to disclosures that the Catholic Archdiocese in Boston has quietly settled sexual abuse claims against more than 70 priests in the last decade.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Allegations of child sexual abuse by priests have surfaced before. But the situation in Boston is so serious that the Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Law, has admitted that he failed to protect the children of the Archdiocese. In New Hampshire, priests from across the state met this week with Bishop John McCormack. McCormack has suspended the privileges of seven priests alleged to have been involved in sexual misconduct years ago.

Yesterday, Bishop Kenneth Angell announced that he would convene a meeting of the Burlington Diocese Sexual Misconduct Board. The Bishop said the Board will “investigate, appraise and advise him on the state of the diocese.” But it’s unclear if the Board will take any action beyond meeting with the Bishop.

The Reverend Wendell Searles is the vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Burlington. Searles says the diocese has a policy in place to handle reports of sexual misconduct by priests. The policy requires the Board to report any suspected sexual abuse cases to the state. Searles says since it was created in 1996, the Board has handled two formal complaints. He says the details of the cases are confidential:

(Searles) “I will say this, that they were not pedophilia cases and, in a sense, they were not sexual abuse cases. They were harassment cases.”

(Zind) The Burlington Diocese Sexual Misconduct Policy specifically says the misconduct board can only respond to reports of abuse incidents that have taken place since 1996. If older incidents did turn up, it’s unclear how the Diocese would handle them. The Sexual Abuse Policy does not require that incidents that took place before 1996 be reported to the state. Many of the incidents now being reported in Boston and New Hampshire happened prior to 1996. Bishop Angell is expected to issue a further statement next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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