Providence Diocese settles abuse cases

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(Host) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, has settled dozens of lawsuits in which Vermont Bishop Kenneth Angell was named as a defendant. The diocese has agreed to pay $13.5 million to 36 plaintiffs.

The settlement ends the nation’s longest ongoing legal dispute involving sexual abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests. Angell was an auxiliary bishop in Providence at the time of the alleged incidents.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Angell was named in 34 of 36 of the civil suits settled. Other defendant’s included another past auxiliary bishop, the current and former bishops of the Providence Diocese, and 10 priests. Four of the priests are now dead. Six have been convicted of child abuse. The suits contended that Angell and other church leaders failed to respond to complaints about sexual misconduct by priests under their supervision.

Providence lawyer Timothy Conlon represented many of the plaintiffs. Conlon says Angell’s handling of reports of sexual misconduct by priests in Providence was no different from that of other church leaders around the country:

(Conlon) “Did we contend that Kenneth Angell did something wrong? Absolutely. But Kenneth Angell was just, if you will, the man on the shift that did the same type of conduct that was alleged to be done by five other people as well.”

(Zind) The Providence settlement comes after a Rhode Island judge ordered the diocese to turn over documents relating to misconduct by priests. But Conlon says the court ruling wasn’t the major factor in bringing about the agreement.

After a decade fighting the church, Conlon says he sees a shift in thinking since the time when Angell was an auxiliary bishop.

(Conlon) “They’ve treated my clients with dignity. They’ve shown them great respect. They have apologized in a heartfelt way. So, you bet you see a different Tim Conlon.”

(Zind) After the settlements were announced, Bishop Angell released a brief statement saying quote, “I am happy for all parties concerned that this painful situation has been resolved.”

In Vermont, the Roman Catholic Diocese was initially reluctant to comply with the attorney general’s request to turn over records on priests accused of misconduct. The diocese eventually complied and placed six Vermont priests on administrative leave while authorities investigate allegations against them.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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