Sorrell says church should not investigate first

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(Host) Attorney General William Sorrell says the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington should not conduct it’s own investigation before informing authorities of sexual abuse allegations against priests or church employees. The diocese said last week it would discontinue an interim policy of immediately turning such information over to Sorrell. The attorney general also says his office has finished its review of allegations against two more active priests.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) When child sexual abuse allegations surfaced against several Vermont priests last spring, the attorney general pressed the Burlington Diocese to quickly report information to his office. The diocese agreed, saying for the time being it would suspend its policy of conducting it’s own investigation before reporting to authorities.

Now church officials say they will return to the old policy. They say church law requires the bishop to first look into any sexual abuse allegations against church personnel. If the allegations are credible, the diocese will then alert authorities.

Sorrell says the diocese hasn’t yet informed him of the change. He says he’s concerned that any investigation by the church would involve talking to alleged victims or perpetrators. Sorrell says it can be traumatic to subject a child victim to repeated interviews. He also says it takes trained investigators:

(Sorrell) “We want to have that same sort of training brought to bear in terms of the first interview with the alleged perpetrator. So that’s, in part, why we were so insistent that the diocese change it’s protocols and not conduct it’s own investigation before deciding whether it’s going to turn over allegations to law enforcement.”

(Zind) Sorrell says he’ll talk with church officials about how the diocese plans to carry out it’s investigations.

He also says his office has completed its review of sexual abuse allegations against two more active priests. He says no criminal charges will be filed. Like earlier reviews of two other priests, Sorrell says the alleged incidents took place over a decade ago. He says they’re difficult to either prove or disprove.

(Sorrell) “Because of either statute of limitations issues or memories having faded or not being able to come up with enough corroborative evidence to make a compelling case.”

(Zind) The two priests are among six the church had placed on administrative leave. The diocese has said it will review the attorney general’s findings before it decides whether to return the priests to active duty.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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