‘We Can’t Allow a Cancer Like This to Remain’: Vt. Bishop Calls for Greater Accountability

Vermont's Catholic bishop is continuing his call for greater transparency in the church and reacting to a delayed vote this week on reforms that would have held bishops more accountable for their handling of sex abuse cases.

"I think that we can purify ourselves of the sin of the abuse of children, but it will take a commitment from each bishop to do so," Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington told necn and NBC10 Boston Friday.

Coyne had just returned to Vermont following a meeting of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in Baltimore.

"We need to hold ourselves accountable in a way we haven't," Coyne said, adding he feels bishops should be doing more to confront the ongoing clergy sexual abuse crisis, which exploded again this summer following a bombshell report on the depth of the crimes in Pennsylvania.

Coyne acknowledged disappointment Friday that a vote was tabled at the meeting in Baltimore on new measures that would have held bishops more accountable for covering up or ignoring sex abuse.

Other topics that were up for discussion at the conference before the vote was tabled included stricter codes of conduct for bishops.

Surprising those in attendance at the conference, the Vatican ordered a last-minute pause on any reforms — until a global conference in February.

The delay outraged survivors and watchdog groups.

"I am stunned and disappointed," Anne Barrett Doyle, a vocal bishop accountability advocate, said this week.

"The Vatican is tone-deaf that this has been going on in America for 30 years," said John McKeon, who was demonstrating for greater accountability for bishops outside the conference in Baltimore.

Before he was ordained as a bishop, Coyne served as the spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, during the height of its priest abuse crisis.

Despite the delay in Baltimore, Coyne noted he is not delaying accountability in his own diocese.

Bishop Coyne just named a task force, made up of laymen and women, which will examine old files on clergy sex abuse of Vermont kids, going back decades.

After the group completes its report, the diocese plans to publish a list of all credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse by a minor.

Coyne insisted Vermont churches are extremely safe today, and said there are no priests currently in ministry in Vermont who have credible claims against them.

"If we don't get this right, it's going to continue to just be an open wound on the church for years to come," Coyne told necn and NBC 10 Boston, describing a new stance on clergy sex abuse. "We have to become transparent; we have to get everything out in the open. We can't allow a cancer like this to remain. It's just going to continue to grow and fester."

Coyne said bishops he's met with from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut agree years' worth of inaction on bishop accountability was a failure.

"We all get it at this point," Coyne said of colleagues from around New England.

Despite his disappointment seeing the reform vote put off, Coyne said he's optimistic more time will mean a better end result for the church and for people still hurting.

Coyne likened the process of church reforms to "turning around an iceberg."

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