VT Diocese Investigates Possibility of Sexual Abuse

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(Host) Officials in Vermont’s Roman Catholic Church say they are starting an investigation to determine if there have been recent incidents of sexual abuse in parishes here.

The initiative comes in the wake of news that for years, the Boston Archdiocese has been paying cash settlements to alleged victims of abuse in order to avoid publicity and criminal trials

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The controversy over the Catholic Church’s handling of alleged sexual abuse by priests spread from Boston to New Hampshire last week. The Bishop of the Diocese of Manchester named 14 priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct. Some of the incidents date back almost 40 years. Bishop Kenneth Angell of the Catholic Diocese of Burlington has been on vacation this week and unavailable for comment. Friday, Gloria Gibson of the diocese issued a brief written statement on behalf of the Bishop:

(Gibson) “The Bishop has already activated the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Board to investigate, appraise and advise him on the state of the Diocese.”

(Zind) The Board was established in 1996 under a new policy created by the Burlington Diocese to deal with sexual misconduct cases. The policy requires church officials to report sexual abuse to the state under the same statute that requires medical personnel, social workers and counselors to report suspected incidents of abuse. According to the Church, there have been no allegations of sexual abuse since the policy was created.

The Roman Catholic Diocese in Vermont is no stranger to the controversy over sexual abuse by priests. In 1989, a priest pleaded no contest to a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a boy. A subsequent civil lawsuit claimed the diocese knew the priest had molested a child when it transferred him to another Vermont parish, a claim the diocese denied.

Three years ago the Vermont Diocese agreed to settle 14 cases brought by people who said they’d been abused as children by nuns, priests and workers at the St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington. The orphanage was closed in 1974. More than 60 others who had claimed abuse at the orphanage accepted an earlier cash settlement from the church.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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