Diocese returns to internal investigation policy

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(Host) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington says it will no longer immediately report allegations of sexual misconduct by priests to state authorities. The diocese says it will first look into the charges to determine if they’re credible.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Last spring, under pressure from the Vermont Attorney General, the Burlington Diocese agreed it would promptly give authorities any information it receives on alleged sexual misconduct by priests or church employees. Now the diocese says it will return to a policy of first conducting it’s own investigation. If the diocese determines the allegations are credible, then the information will be given to authorities.

The Reverend Wendall Searles is vicar general at the Burlington Diocese. Searles says Canon Law dictates that the church take steps to protect the rights priests:

(Searles) “When an allegation is made, the bishop of the diocese is required to enter into a preliminary investigation. He would not be required to report until he has determined the credibility. And I think what’s involved here were some issues around the rights of priests, particularly the rights of priests in the event of false allegations.”

(Zind) Searles says if allegations are found to be credible, the information would be turned over to authorities within 24 hours. He says that policy goes beyond the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter was approved this week by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Washington, D.C.

In the past, state officials have said it’s important that they be the first to talk with alleged victims and perpetrators. Social and Rehabilitation Services Commissioner Bill Young says he wants to talk with church officials before commenting on the policy. The Reverend Searles says the diocese will try not to hamper future state investigations.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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