Vermont’s statewide Catholic diocese Thursday released a list of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing young parishioners who trusted them.
There are 40 names on the list, but the number could grow, should more survivors of abuse come forward.
“I think it’s going to haunt us for decades still to come,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington said of priest sex abuse in the church’s past.
An independent review committee found the names on the list met criteria that allowed them to be deemed as having credible and substantiated accusations of sexual abuse of children and teens going back to 1950.
Of the names on the list, 39 were accused of harming children in Vermont, and while a fortieth priest did serve in the diocese of Burlington for a while, the credible abuse claims against him came during service in Iowa.
The full list of credibly-accused priests is available on the website of the diocese.
“To speak against a priest in that day and age was just unheard of,” observed John Mahoney of Burlington, who served on the seven-person review committee.
Mahoney, who is himself a survivor of molestation by his family’s former priest, Edward Foster, in the 1960s, said he hopes the report sends a message to other survivors that they are not alone.
“I think there were many victims who just kept it all inside,” Mahoney said.
Two-thirds of the one-time parish leaders named in the document are now dead, and all the allegations but one date to before the year 2000.
Ahead of its public release, Bishop Coyne provided the report to Attorney General T.J. Donovan, who’s also looking into decades of abuse claims against the church.
“I appreciate the lay committee’s work and diligence on this matter,” Donovan said in a statement posted to his office’s website.
As he has in the past, Coyne again apologized to survivors Thursday, calling sexual abuse of kids one of most heinous violations imaginable.
“The only thing I can say, as someone who is not a perpetrator, is I can’t fix what happened to you, but I can do everything that I can to make sure this never happens again and I can try to help you as a victim—a survivor—to get the healing that you need and the justice you desire,” Coyne said of survivors at a press conference in South Burlington.
Attorney Jerry O’Neill, who has secured more than $31-million in settlements for clients in lawsuits against the diocese of Burlington, has six suits still pending.
In an interview with necn Thursday, O’Neill praised Bishop Coyne for releasing the list, but said the bishop’s predecessors should have done so years ago.
“This diocese, although a lot later than they should have, is at least finally putting the names out there,” O’Neill said. “It’s an act of honesty they should’ve done as far back as 2001. It’s a step in the right direction. I give Bishop Coyne credit for doing it, even belatedly.”
O’Neill predicted the list of accused predator priests will grow, expecting its release will likely empower other survivors to come forward.
“There certainly are more,” O’Neill said.
Coyne acknowledged publishing the list of former priests’ names could inspire more survivors to come forward. The review committee has said it is willing to go over any additional information that may result.
Reporters asked Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, about the report’s release at an unrelated press conference Thursday. He said he was deeply concerned at the number of priests found to be credibly accused.
“I give credit to the committee for coming forward—shining a spotlight on this issue—but it’s really concerning when you see there are possibly 40 thus far, and it may be growing, of those who were involved,” Scott said. “This is certainly a black eye for our state, but also for the diocese.”
Scott said he plans to study the issue, to learn if there are any public safety initiatives that could be launched to better protect people from harm.
Thursday, the bishop reiterated a point he has made before, that he considers the church today to be a very safe place because of policies that have been instituted.