(Host) A Vermont Catholic priest was arraigned today on a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct.
The allegations involve an 18-year-old adult who described the priest as a mentor he looked up to.
The office of the Vermont Attorney General says the diocese should have moved more quickly to report the allegations to authorities, but there was also a failure by state police who were the first to learn of the allegations.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports:
(Joseph) “I have before me then information charging the defendant with lewd and lascivious conduct.”
(Zind) The Reverend Stephen Nichols stood quietly in the St. Albans courtroom Monday, dressed in a dark suit. He listened to his lawyer enter a plea of not guilty.
According to a court affidavit, Nichols befriended an 18-year-old Saint Johnsbury man, identified in documents only by initials, when the man sought him out to discuss converting to Catholicism.
The alleged victim was described as someone who had lost his father when he was 7 and had no male friends with whom to talk about serious issues. He called the 47 year old Nichols a mentor and someone he respected.
The affidavit says that as their friendship progressed, the two made day trips to Canada.
He told authorities that in one instance the two drank beer and the young man became sick. They returned to Nichol’s home in Richford where Nichols allegedly made repeated unwanted advances including inappropriate touching.
The young man says three days later he went with a friend to Nichol’ house and confronted the priest. That was the last time the two spoke. That was the end of April 2005.
The affidavits say Nichols told friends that it was the young man who made the advances and tried to extort money from him.
In the wake of the nationwide sex abuse scandal involving priests, the Vermont Diocese has taken pains to show that it has changed the way it deals with employees accused of wrongdoing.
Friday, Bishop Salvatore Matano held a press conference to explain how the charge had handled the allegations against Nichols. Matano says the church first conducted its own internal investigation before going to the Attorney General’s office because it had only an anonymous tip to go on.
On Monday, Assistant Attorney General Cindy McGuire says the church should have informed authorities sooner.
(McGuire) “On the plus side they did notify law enforcement, but the other side of that coin is it was after they had done their own internal investigation.”
(Zind) McGuire also said that months before the Diocese received the anonymous call, the young man reported the incident to the State Police in Saint Johnsbury.
Authorities there told him to go to the Franklin County barracks because the alleged incident took place in their jurisdiction.
The young man decided not to go to state police in Franklin County. McGuire says it’s not clear why state police in Saint Johnsbury didn’t follow up on what proved to be a criminal case.
The Reverend Nichols has been on administrative leave since last April.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in St. Albans.