Burlington Diocese undecided on investigation policy

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(Host) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington hasn’t decided if it will change its policy of investigating child sexual abuse allegations first, before turning information over to authorities. Vermont officials have made it clear they want the change. But the diocesan attorney says he wants to see how the attorney general handles its review of allegations against a number of Vermont priests.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Two months ago this week, Bishop Kenneth Angell emerged from a meeting with Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and announced that the diocese had temporarily suspended its policy of conducting it’s own investigation of sexual abuse allegations before giving the information to the attorney general. Angell said permanent changes to the procedure would be considered after the meeting of U.S. Bishops in Dallas in June:

(Angell) “At that meeting there may be some policies adopted that would fit into what we’re trying to do here.”

(Zind) But at their national conference last month, bishops didn’t endorse any changes in the church’s policy of investigating first and reporting to authorities afterward. William O’Brien is the lawyer for the Burlington Diocese.

(O’Brien) “Very frankly, the charter that came out of the Dallas meeting and the norms that were applicable to it made it clear that every diocese must, under Canon Law, thoroughly investigate all allegations of sexual abuse. So the national charter is somewhat inconsistent with the actions we are taking now.”

(Zind) State officials say it’s important that they, not the church, be the first to interview alleged sexual abuse victims and perpetrators. Bill Young is Vermont Commissioner of Social and Rehabilitation Services:

(Young) “If any organization, say it’s a school or a childcare program or a summer camp, decides to investigate themselves, they do several things that are detrimental to child safety, child recovery and being able to deal with the person who committed the offense.”

(Zind) Young says he believes it’s possible to balance Canon Law with the need for state officials to be the first to question alleged victims and abusers.

O’brien says for the time being the Burlington Diocese is still turning over information to the attorney general without conducting it’s own investigation. He’s not sure this will continue.

(O’Brien) “We’re waiting, frankly, to see just how this initial round of exchanges of information works out. Our initial information was turned over almost two months ago. If these decisions take extended periods of time, we as an institution are going to less likely to be able to continue with that process.”

(Zind) O’Brien says the church is urging anyone with information about sexual abuse of children by priests to independently contact authorities.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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