Vermont AG investigates abuse allegations at Catholic institutions

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As the attorney general of Vermont investigates allegations of abuses at Catholic institutions, the state's bishop has announced that the diocese is waiving nondisclosure agreements for abuse victims.
Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced Sept. 11 an investigation of allegations surrounding St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington.

“The allegations include murder, for which there is no statute of limitations, as well as abuse and sexual abuse,” the attorney general's office stated. “The Burlington Catholic Diocese, which operated St. Joseph’s Orphanage, has expressed willingness to fully cooperate with the investigation.”

The orphanage, founded in the mid-1800s, was operated by the Sisters of Providence, and overseen by Vermont Catholic Charities. It closed in 1974.

The allegations were described by Christine Kenneally in an Aug. 27 article in BuzzFeed News.

“I wish to inform all survivors of abuse who entered into a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) with the Diocese of Burlington as part of a legal settlement that the Diocese waives that agreement and they are now free to tell the story of what happened to them as they see fit,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said Sept. 28.

He noted that this applies only “to NDAs that were signed with the Diocese and not any other Church entity such as a religious community or school.”

“Out of respect for those who asked for an NDA so as to maintain their own personal privacy in these matters, the Diocese will continue to maintain the agreement.”

The bishop added that the Diocese of Burlington has not required nondisclosure agreements on the part of survivors since 2002.

“It is my hope that this past action as well as the present one will allow the truth of what happened to survivors and their families to be heard,” Bishop Coyne wrote. “I pledge to you, as the bishop of Burlington, that I will do everything that I can to make sure this never happens again and to work for healing and reconciliation with those who were so badly abused by clergy.”

Alleged abuses at St. Joseph's Orphanage were the subject of lawsuits brought by former residents in the 1990s. Some of the cases were dismissed, and some reached settlements.

VTDigger reported Sept. 26 that Donovan's investigation will include Weston Priory, a Benedictine monastery. Michael Veitch has said he was sexually abused by a visiting priest at the priory around 1970, when he was 15 years old.

Msgr. John McDermott, vicar general of the Burlington diocese, told VTDigger that the diocese will cooperate with Donovan “in any way … If the Vermont Attorney General decides to expand the investigation we will cooperate to the best of our ability.”

Veitch has said that memories of his alleged abuse were triggered by reports of sexual abuse of minors in Pennsylvania.

In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report found more than 1,000 allegations of abuse at the hands of some 300 clergy members in six dioceses in the state. It also found a pattern of cover up by senior Church officials.

The report has prompted questions nationwide on the Church’s response to abuse claims.

Since then, numerous state attorneys general have announced investigations into abuse by clerics, including those in Michigan, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, New Mexico, and Illinois.

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