State, Church Deciding Next Steps in Abuse Cases

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(Host) The Catholic Diocese of Burlington says it has finished investigating several recent allegations of sexual misconduct by priests. Those allegations surfaced in the wake of charges of sexual abuse against scores of priests in Boston and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the church and the Vermont attorney general’s office say they have received new allegations of abuse by priests.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The Burlington Diocese says the incidents recently reported to church officials took place decades ago.

In the weeks following the disclosures in Boston, the Diocese acknowledged it had received a few complaints, but declined to give the specific number or provide any details of the allegations. Now the diocese says all of the initial complaints that surfaced have been looked into. Father Wendell Searles is the Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

(Searles) “The files have been checked, the history of these things have been reviewed. If the allegation was credible, the problem was solved.”

(Zind) Searles says the diocese found that the recent reports concerned old incidents already known to the church. He said the priests in question had already been dealt with:

(Searles) “It might have been a case where a man was suspended from the priesthood. It might have been a case where a man withdrew from the priesthood.”

(Zind) Searles says since the initial reports surfaced there have been in his words “one or two” additional reports also involving incidents that took place many years ago. He says the church is still looking into those reports.

The Vermont attorney general’s office says it too has recently received calls about sexual abuse by priests. Cindy McGuire is with the Criminal Justice Division:

(McGuire) “Whether they’re the same persons communicating I don’t know, but we have received a number of calls from individuals and many of these allegations date back twenty years.”

(Zind) McGuire says her office is requesting information on the allegations from the Burlington Diocese. In those cases where the diocese says it has conducted an investigation and satisfied itself, McGuire says her office will still request information in order to make it’s own determination. In New Hampshire, the Catholic Diocese provided authorities with information on fifteen priests accused of sexual abuse. McGuire says she expects the same thing will happen in Vermont:

(McGuire) “At least at this point in time, they have indicated a willingness to cooperate with us. We are just not as far along in our discussion I think as, for example, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts are.”

(Zind) At this point, however, Searles says the church has no plans to turn over information on the allegations they’ve received:

(Searles) “I don’t think that at the moment there is a plan to turn over any of this, but that could change.”

(Zind) Law enforcement and diocese officials plan to meet in the next week or two to continue discussions on the church’s policy toward sexual misconduct and the recent allegations.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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