(Host) The Catholic Diocese of Burlington agreed Thursday to suspend its policy on the way it handles allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Church officials say they’ll no longer wait before turning over information to authorities. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell also said the information the church gave his office earlier this week could result in criminal proceedings involving Vermont priests.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) Under current policy, the church conducts it’s own investigation when it receives an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor. Then, if the church decides the information is credible, it alerts authorities. Attorney General Sorrell says he wants that policy to be changed:
(Sorrell) “What we have asked is that, to avoid that the church or the diocese not first conduct it’s own investigation of matters involving child victims, but rather will be promptly turned over to us for use; to expeditiously conduct that investigate ourselves.”
(Zind) Bishop Angell and diocese lawyers told Sorrell and Social and Rehabilitation Commissioner William Young the church will temporarily suspend its policy. The church leaders said that for the time being they’ll immediately report sexual abuse allegations to state officials. Angell says the change is being made on an interim basis in order to give the church time to review the policy. Sorrell made it clear he would like church officials to make the change permanent.
Thursday’s meeting came two days after the Diocese gave Sorrell information on 20 priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct. Diocese officials say the allegations dated from the 1950s to the 1980s and had been previously investigated by the church. Nonetheless, church officials say six of the priests are still active and will be put on administrative leave while authorities investigate allegations against them.
Sorrell says he’s still reviewing the information it received Tuesday. He indicated his office may be able to prosecute on the basis of some of the allegations, but said it’s still too early to tell.
(Sorrell) “There are some very serious allegations relating to conduct during the 1980s.”
(Zind) Sorrell says he has asked the diocese to conduct a further search of its records for additional information on sexual abuse by priests and church employees.
It was the first meeting between Bishop Angel and state officials since the recent flurry of sexual impropriety allegations against Vermont priests. The Bishop says the church has been working to comply with the state’s requests:
(Angell) “We want to do everything possible to insure the safety of our young people. If that means taking away a priest’s faculties to operate as a priest, then that’s what it means.”
(Zind) Thursday’s meeting caps a week in which the church has agreed to virtually all of the requests Sorrell made when he first met with diocese officials last month. Initially the diocese had refused to provide Sorrell with the information he’d asked for.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Burlington.