Burlington Diocese Changes Position on Reporting Abuse

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(Host) The Catholic Diocese of Burlington has changed its position on how much information it will give authorities about alleged sexual abuse by priests. The announcement was made over the weekend by Bishop Kenneth Angell.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Angell) "After many hours of reflection, consultation and prayer, I have made a major decision concerning the crisis that presently besets the Church¿."

(Zind) A letter from Bishop Angell to church members was read at weekend masses throughout the state. In it, the bishop says the church would turn over information on alleged sexual misconduct by priests, regardless of when the incidents may have occurred. Earlier this month, the church had indicated it would give the attorney general information on alleged incidents dating back to 1982, and no earlier.

Angell himself read the statement Sunday morning at services at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington:

(Angell) "This coming week, I will submit to the Vermont attorney general information concerning credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, regardless of the date of the allegations. I expect that the attorney general will agree that in many cases of alleged impropriety, the church has acted responsibly, has disciplined the accused, sought professional help and, in some cases, dismissed the offender form any further church ministry."

(Zind) The announcement is a victory for Attorney General William Sorrell. Sorrell had initially asked the church for information about possible sexual misconduct with a minor in any instance where the alleged perpetrator is still alive. The church cited Vermont’s statute of limitations and said it would not provide information on alleged incidents over 20 years old. At the time, Sorrell said he was disappointed by the church’s response.

It’s not clear if the bishop’s announcement means the church has fully complied with Sorrell’s request. Sorrell says he wants information on misconduct by priests, church employees and volunteers. The bishop’s statement mentions only priests.

Sorrell has also asked the church to waive confidentiality agreements with people who have settled past sexual misconduct cases with the church. He says his office has been contacted by people who are afraid to discuss incidents for fear of breaking the agreements.

Sorrell and William O’Brien, the diocese attorney, will meet tomorrow. O’Brien says he will also meet later this week with Vermont Social and Rehabilitation Services Commissioner Bill Young. State officials want the church to change in its procedure for handling sexual abuse allegations.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.

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