Vermont priest pleads guilty on lewd conduct charge

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(Host) A Vermont Catholic priest has pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lewd conduct with an 18-year-old boy.

The Reverend Stephen Nichols will serve a 30 day jail sentence for fondling an 18-year-old boy at his Richford home two years ago.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) As a parish priest in Danville and Lyndonville, Nichols served as a spiritual advisor to the young man who was interested in converting to Catholicism.

According to investigators, Nichols took the 18-year-old to Canada where he bought him alcohol. Then they returned to the priest’s home where Nichols made the unwanted advances.

Under the plea agreement the charges against Nichols were reduced from lewd and lascivious conduct – a felony with a possible five year prison term to a misdemeanor charge.

Cindy McGuire is Assistant Attorney General.

(McGuire) “We felt that that was proper given the facts of the case. There was no prior record on the part of the defendant and there was no pattern.”

(Zind) McGuire says the complainant was kept informed of the plea negotiations and agreed to the reduced charge to avoid a public trial.

The 47-year-old Nichols has served in the Vermont diocese for twenty years. He was granted a leave of absence in April of last year. The Vermont Roman Catholic Diocese says it has not yet made a decision on his future status.

In addition to a 30-day prison sentence, Nichols will undergo sex offender treatment and serve 2 years of probation.

Nichols is the first Vermont Catholic priest to face criminal charges since the Attorney General’s office began investigating sexual abuse allegations against diocese priests in 2002, triggered by reports of abuse nationwide.

More than twenty civil suits are currently pending against former Vermont priests.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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