Burlington diocese prepares for lawsuit payments

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(Host) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington is trying to set aside money to cover possible settlements in three remaining lawsuits over alleged abuse. But the lawyer for two of the plaintiffs says his clients will not settle for small sums.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Earlier this month, the Burlington Diocese reached an agreement with an Arizona man who was allegedly abused by the Reverend George Paulin in the mid-1980s. Most recently, Paulin was a pastor in Ludlow. He has since retired. According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, the settlement was in the low five figures. But the Diocese could be facing much larger payouts in civil suits that are still pending.

The diocese is named in three other civil lawsuits in Chittenden County Superior Court. Burlington Lawyer Jerome O’Neill is the attorney for two of the plaintiffs who claim they were abused by two Vermont priests in the 1960s and 1970s. One priest lives out of state. The other, the Reverend James McShane of Rutland, has been placed on administrative leave. O’Neill says his clients want a financial settlement much larger than the one agreed to in the Paulin case.

(O’Neill) “A small sum is not what these people are owed for what these priests did and that the diocese turned its head about, or did not sufficiently investigate or pay attention to. A small sum is not justice, it’s an insult.”

(Zind) The Burlington Diocese recently took out insurance coverage to cover the costs of litigation, but the policy does not include the current lawsuits. William O’Brien is a lawyer for the Diocese. O’Brien says the church is trying to set aside enough money to pay legal fees and the cost of any settlements.

(O’Brien) “These monies come from the general reserves of the diocese. They’re set aside for specific purposes and we’re now trying to reserve an appropriate amount of money that we would be able to see our way through to the end of these lawsuits.”

(Zind) O’Brien says the money in the general reserves of the diocese comes from the contributions made by parishioners. He says none of the settlement money will come from the annual Bishop’s Fund, which supports Catholic charities and educational programs. Given the potential financial impact on the Diocese and the complexity of the cases, it’s doubtful any of these cases will be resolved anytime soon.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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