Survivors question priest abuse probe

Published: 9/3/2019 10:10:59 PM
Modified: 9/3/2019 10:10:53 PM

BURLINGTON — A Vermont Catholic Church report revealing the names of 40 priests accused of sexually abusing children over the past seven decades has both provided answers and prompted questions for survivors and members of the state’s largest religious denomination.

“This is a long overdue step towards transparency — and there is still more work to do,” said Zach Hiner, executive director of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

The support group said the Vermont report is similar to documents from other states that offer such basics as an accused priest’s name, dates and locations of assignments, and whether that person is dead or alive.

But SNAP doesn’t understand why dioceses nationwide aren’t including photos and other clarifying details about clergy or sharing more about how many people have complained of abuse.

“There really hasn’t been one list anywhere that has all the information that’s most useful to the public,” Hiner said.

Vermont Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne gave the state diocese’s long-locked personnel files to a seven-member lay committee last November to review and release the names of clergy who have faced credible allegations of child sexual abuse since 1950. SNAP went on to criticize the church for not publicizing a list sooner — a point the bishop acknowledged upon releasing the report last week.

The four men and three women on the lay committee said their biggest obstacle was the fact the personnel files were both overwhelming and under-organized and mostly limited to diocesan priests and not other religious orders that also serve the state.

“The volume of the files we were presented with was itself a challenge,” the committee wrote in its report. “It was apparent the Vermont diocesan recordkeeping system was inadequate and incomplete.”

The committee, discovering there are no standards for such reviews, decided to define a credible allegation as one that’s either considered “natural, plausible and probable,” corroborated with other evidence, or acknowledged by the accused.

“I knew the issue was significant, but it was a bit larger than I would have anticipated,” says committee member John Mahoney, a retired Burlington schoolteacher who was abused by a priest around eighth grade. “I saw names of victims I did not know I was going to see. I saw names of perpetrators I did not know I was going to see.”

That said, the files don’t contain the full extent of the problem.

One of the most sued former priests, Edward Paquette, has faced 32 court cases with several more filed recently.

But his official records only note incidents involving two boys in Rutland and five more in Burlington, as most of his accusers didn’t come forward until decades later and went directly to a lawyer rather than to church leaders.

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