(Host) The Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington issued a statement Thursday saying he plans to meet today with the diocese’s Sexual Misconduct Board. The diocese says the Board will discuss recent allegations involving Vermont priests.
The allegations could be an important test for the diocese’s sexual misconduct policy and for Bishop Kenneth Angell.
In addition, previous reports from The Providence Journal in Rhode Island provide a look at Bishop Angell’s connection to court cases there.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) Reports of sexual abuse by priests in a number of New England dioceses have surfaced in recent weeks. According to church officials, many of the alleged abuses took place years ago. Nevertheless, Catholic Diocese in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, have given law enforcement officials information about the incidents in those states and the priests involved.
The Catholic Diocese of Burlington says it also has recently received complaints of past sexual misconduct. The diocese won’t say exactly how many complaints there are or when the alleged incidents took place, other than to say they date back many years. Nor has the diocese decided if it will turn the information over to authorities. The attorney general has requested a meeting with church officials. That’s expected to happen early next week.
According to diocesan policy, the Sexual Misconduct Board can only review incidents that have occurred since 1996. This means the Board might not look at the new allegations. The bishop has refused interviews and offered a recorded statement released Thursday. In it, the bishop addresses whether or not Board members will be allowed to review misconduct by priests prior to 1996:
(Angell) “Technically they are not. However, if we receive credible information of alleged abuse years ago, we will deal with it on a case-by-case basis, seeking first and foremost the safety of our children.”
(Zind) According to a diocese spokesperson, Bishop Angell will decide if the recent allegations should be reviewed by the Sexual Misconduct Board.
The bishop has been involved before in the controversy over sexual abuse by priests who were under his jurisdiction. In the early 1990s, he was named in civil suits in Providence, Rhode Island. He was an auxiliary bishop in Providence before he came to Vermont. According to The Providence Journal newspaper, court documents in one of the cases indicate Bishop Angell did not respond to complaints about a priest’s behavior with young boys. The complaints came over a period of years from parishioners and assistant priests. In one memo sent to Providence Diocese leaders, the priest’s behavior was called “a scandal of little boys.” Another memo to Bishop Angell, said “the scandal is a joke among people in the town, both adults who will not let their sons stay here and high school boys who fear him.” In court documents, Bishop Angell says he was concerned he didn’t have proof of the priest’s behavior. The suit was settled but the terms were not disclosed.
The Burlington Diocese’s Sexual Misconduct Policy was created at a time when the church was defending itself against abuse charges. In 1999, the diocese settled court cases with fourteen former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington. The claimants said that as children they had been physically and sexually abused by nuns, priests and other orphanage employees. At least 60 other former orphanage residents agreed to out-of-court cash settlements from the church. The orphanage was closed in 1974. Bishop Angell says the church has continued to make improvements since the Sexual Abuse Policy was instituted in 1996:
(Angell) “Presently, the Board is updating its procedures, continuing to offer education programs and is working on a code of conduct for all church personnel.”
(Zind) The Bishop says over 2,000 diocese employees and volunteers have attended educational seminars on sexual abuse.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.