(Host) The Attorney General’s office says a Vermont priest has been cited to appear in court on a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct. The Reverend Stephen Nichols will be arraigned Monday.
The Catholic Diocese of Burlington says it alerted authorities after investigating an anonymous report about the priest.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports:
(Zind) This marks the first time in recent years that the Attorney General has pursued criminal charges against a priest of Vermont’s Roman Catholic Diocese.
The diocese says that in August of last year, it received a single complaint about a single incident involving the 47-year-old Nichols and an 18-year-old adult male while Nichols was a priest at parishes in Lyndonville and Danville.
Three months later, after investigating the complaint, the church alerted the Attorney General’s office.
Five months after that, at the beginning of last April, the priest asked for and was granted a leave of absence.
Today, the Attorney General’s office announced that Nichols will be arraigned next week.
Bishop Salvatore Mutano said Friday that the priest was allowed to continue in his job for more than seven months after the allegation surfaced because the information the church received from the anonymous source was inconclusive.
Mutano said the alleged victim was an adult and that Nichols’ parishioners were not at risk.
(Mutano) “He knew he was under investigation by the office of the Attorney General. I would think that is probably the best monitoring system that one could have. And as I say, the information that I received was inconclusive, but it certainly was acted upon in a very reasonable manner of time.”
(Zind) Mutano says the diocese has cooperated fully with the Attorney General’s office. He would not provide specifics about the alleged incident.
The Attorney General’s office also declined to comment on Friday.
Over the past several years, the Attorney General has reviewed a number of complaints of sexual misconduct by Vermont priests. In most cases the allegations dated back many years.
The church has settled a number of civil suits brought by victims of sexual misconduct by Vermont priests and about 20 cases are still pending.
Under Vermont law, lewd and lascivious conducts is a criminal offense with a maximum five-year prison term and a fine of no more than $300.
The Reverend Nichols will appear in District Court in St. Albans on Monday. He has been a priest in Vermont for twenty years.
Previously he was assigned to parishes in Lowell and Troy. The church says there were no previous allegations of misconduct involving Nichols.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.