State, Diocese Disagree on Information to Disclose

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(Host) The lawyer for Burlington’s Catholic Diocese says his response to the state’s request for information on sexual abuse allegations is appropriate. Attorney William O’Brien says the diocese is giving the state information that is pertinent to cases that could still be prosecuted under the law. But Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell has said he’s disappointed that the church is not providing more information about sexual abuse allegations.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The diocese told Sorrell it will provide him with information on allegations of sexual abuse dating back to 1982. Sorrell says that’s not enough. He wants all the information the church has, regardless of the date, as long as the alleged perpetrator is still alive.

O’Brien says the attorney general told him that authorities couldn’t act on abuse incidents that occurred more than 20 years ago. He says there is no reason turn over older allegations if the statute of limitations prevents authorities from taking action:

(O’Brien) “They came up with the date, we didn’t. We said that we’re willing to cooperate with your abilities to prosecute, we wouldn’t stand in the way and we would encourage the public to come forward in that regard.”

(Zind) O’Brien says the diocese has the necessary policies and oversight in place to make sure any reports of abuse are investigated and dealt with. He says the church will act on any allegations against a priest currently in the ministry, no matter how far back the charges date:

(O’Brien) “The attorney general, it appears, believes that he has the exclusive license on protecting the flock and that the Bishop cannot do so. No priest will be in ministry who poses a threat to children, regardless of when the threat was posed.”

(Zind) O’Brien says the church has no information that any current priest in Vermont has been involved in sexual misconduct with a child. Sorrell said this week that at least one of the allegations his office has received concerns a priest currently in service. O’Brien says the statement casts a cloud over all priests in Vermont and he wants the attorney general to share the information it has with the diocese.

(O’Brien) “I specifically asked the attorney general if there were priests in ministry against whom they had received complaints and if so, could they share that information with us. Because we wanted to help them and he declined to comment.”

(Zind) O’Brien says the diocese would support Sorrell’s call for legislation to make it mandatory for clergy to report suspected sexual abuse as long as it did not include information obtained in the confessional. Sorrell says he has no problem with that.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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