Aiming to Boost Transparency, Vt. Catholic Bishop Launches Listening Tour

A series of town hall meetings starts Thursday night

Vermont’s Catholic bishop is hitting the road.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington is launching a series of town hall meetings with Catholics around the state, starting Thursday evening in St. Albans at St. Mary’s Church.

Coyne told necn he expects to discuss how to rebuild trust with parishioners, following ongoing attention nationally on priest abuse cases. Another issue he expects to hear about is concern over parish consolidations.

The bishop said his goals are to increase transparency within the diocese, and to gather ideas on how to keep the faith vibrant in an era when attendance at Mass is declining and church-goers are getting older.

Coyne noted he is particularly interested in hearing stories from parishes around the diocese about how they are succeeding in energizing their communities.

“As the pastor, I need to be with my people,” Coyne said in an interview with necn Thursday. “I can be in this office all day long, and I can have a lot of good staff around me. And my clergy are just wonderful in the work that they do. But there’s a certain distancing that comes from being the bishop if you’re not careful. So part of my desire is not only do this this once, but to continue to do this.”

Other town hall meetings will be held Jan. 22 at Holy Family in Essex Junction, Jan. 23 at St. Theresa’s in Orleans, Jan. 28 at Sacred Heart in Bennington, Jan. 29 at Christ the King in Rutland, and Jan. 31 at St. John Vianney in South Burlington.

Each of the meetings start at 6 p.m.

Coyne said he’ll add more dates and locations if this round of town halls is successful.

“I might have an idea of a direction I want to go, and I might think it’s a great idea and I might float it out there, and then all of a sudden I’m in a town hall meeting and I’m hearing a lot of blowback, and I’m going, ‘well okay, maybe this isn’t a good idea—maybe I have to change the direction I’m going, with them,’” Coyne said of the value of input from Vermont Catholics.

The bishop also updated necn on the work of a citizen’s committee now reviewing files on priest misconduct within the Diocese of Burlington—many of them decades old.

The group plans to make public the names of past priests with credible abuse claims against them.

The bishop said the committee still has more work to do, and that the review has been slow because the volunteers are taking their task very seriously, reading files cover to cover.

Coyne said no current priests in his diocese have claims against them, adding that he considers the church a very safe place today, thanks to current policies and training.

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