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Vermont releases list of 40 priests accused of abuse; 10 had ties to Upper Valley

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    Vermont's Roman Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne speaks Thursday Aug. 22, 2019 in South Burlington, Vt., about a new report that found there were "credible and substantiated" allegations of the sexual abuse of minors against 40 priests in the state between 1950 and today. The report said all but one of the allegations occurred before 2000. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) Wilson Ring

Associated Press
Published: 8/22/2019 9:58:55 PM
Modified: 8/22/2019 10:01:15 PM

SOUTH BURLINGTON — A report released Thursday by Vermont’s Roman Catholic Church found there were “credible and substantiated” allegations of the sexual abuse of minors against 40 priests in the state between 1950 and today, including 10 who had ties to the Upper Valley.

All but one of those allegations occurred prior to 2000, and none of the priests are still in ministry, the report said. Most of the priests who were named in the report are now dead.

“While most of these allegations took place at least a generation ago, the numbers are still staggering,” said Bishop Christopher Coyne, who leads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which covers the entire state.

Coyne commissioned the report last fall after the Vermont Attorney General’s Office launched its own investigation into allegations of abuse at the now-shuttered St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington and amid mounting pressure on the church to respond to abuse claims.

Vermont’s Attorney General’s Office is conducting a separate investigation into abuse allegations.

Coyne said until the names were released Thursday the scope of abuse within the diocese “has been our family secret.” He said he hopes the report can continue a process of healing for the victims while the church works to regain its credibility as a source of moral authority.

“Family secrets can be toxic,” Coyne said during a news conference at the diocese’s South Burlington headquarters. “Harmful past experiences, unspoken, unaddressed and known only by a few, fester like neglected wounds.”

The release by the Vermont diocese comes as the Catholic Church across the country and worldwide comes to terms with a legacy of the sexual abuse of minors. Last month, the Diocese of Manchester, which covers New Hampshire, posted a list that included the names of 73 priests. Of those, 29 served congregations in the Upper Valley.

The Vermont diocese has been grappling with priest sex abuse cases for decades and many of the priests who were named Thursday have been named publicly in the past. The diocese has spent tens of millions of dollars to settle cases, a move that has forced the diocese to liquidate some of its assets to pay those claims.

The diocese is still in discussions with a handful of additional victims, Coyne said.

Nine of the priests named on the list worked for churches in the Upper Valley, with the 10th man working in Montpelier but caring for missions in Orange County.

Three of the priests spent time at St. Mary in Springfield, three preached at St. Anthony in White River Junction, one served as pastor at Our Lady of the Snows in Woodstock and three worked at St. Francis of Assisi in Windsor.

One of the priests who spent time at St. Francis also served as chaplain at Our Lady of the Snows home for girls in Randolph. A priest who worked at St. Anthony in White River Junction also worked as a pastor in Windsor at St. Francis. Some of the men only served in the capacity of assistant priest.

A woman who answered the phone at St. Anthony referred a reporter to spokespeople for the diocese in Burlington. Representatives at St. Mary, Our Lady of the Snows in Woodstock and St. Francis said there was no one available to comment on Thursday.

Only two of the priests who served in the Upper Valley — Assistant Priest Conrad A. Bessette and Assistant Priest Brian E. Mead, both of St. Mary in Springfield — are living. Attempts to reach them on Thursday were unsuccessful.

William P. Gallagher, who was a longtime pastor at Our Lady of the Snows in Woodstock, was relieved of his duties for health reasons in 2002, according to a news release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington at the time, as reported in the Valley News. That news release, which named 18 priests who were retiring, leaving their parishes or being transferred, came weeks after the diocese placed six active priests on indefinite administrative leave while the attorney general investigated allegations of sexual misconduct against them. Gallagher died in 2003.

The Vermont report released Thursday was conducted by a seven-member committee that worked independently from the diocese. The panel included one victim of abuse and one non-Catholic.

While reviewers initially looked at the records of 52 priests, they could only substantiate the allegations against 40. Some of the priests named in the report were born in the late 1800s and the allegations against them were made decades after their deaths.

The most recent case came from the mid-2000s when a priest later admitted he made unwanted sexual advances on an 18-year-old male without his consent, including touching the man’s genitals. The priest was sentenced to 30 days in jail and was later removed from the priesthood.

Committee member John Mahoney, 65, of Burlington, was the abuse survivor on the committee. He said he was abused by the Rev. Edward Foster, who died in 2000, during the early 1970s. He said he endured several years of abuse starting in the seventh grade and lasting until high school when a friend told him what had been happening was not acceptable. Still, he never told his parents.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Mahoney has agreed to make his name public.

Mahoney, who reached a legal settlement with the church years ago, attended Thursday’s news conference and said seeing the name of his abuser out in the open brought a measure of relief.

“One can only hope that this offers some opportunity for healing of individuals, but healing within the church as well,” Mahoney said.

Valley News Staff Writer Jordan Cuddemi contributed to this report.

Priests named in the list from the Vermont side of the Upper Valley

■Conrad A. Bessette, St. Mary in Springfield (1973-74)

■John F. Eastman, St. Anthony in White River Junction (1951)

■James F. Foley, St. Anthony in White River Junction (1949, 1974-75)

■William P. Gallagher, Our Lady of the Snows in Woodstock (1981-2002)

■Brian E. Mead, St. Mary in Springfield (1974-76)

■George O. Murtagh, St. Francis of Assisi in Windsor (1950)

■Raymond C. Provost, St. Mary in Springfield (1937)

■Daniel F. Roberts, St. Anthony in White River Junction (1946-49); St. Francis of Assisi in Windsor (1969-75)

■Forrest W. Rouelle, Our Lady of the Snows home for girls in Randolph (1956); St. Francis of Assisi in Windsor (1962-65, 1975-88)

■Charles A. Towne, Montpelier, cared for missions in Orange County (1931-32)

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