Vermont Priest Faces Charge of Sexual Misconduct
By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press [Vermont]
September 9, 2006
A Catholic priest is scheduled to be arraigned on a felony lewd and lascivious conduct charge Monday in Vermont District Court in St. Albans, the Vermont Attorney General's Office announced Friday.
Rev. Stephen Nichols, who has been a priest for 20 years, allegedly engaged in a single incident of sexual misconduct with an 18-year-old man before August 2005, Bishop Salvatore Matano said at a hastily arranged news conference Friday afternoon at the headquarters of the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.
"There have been no other complaints against him," Matano said. He declined to discuss the details of the allegation against Nichols.
Matano said Nichols, who was parish priest at St. Elizabeth Church in Lyndonville and Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Danville at the time the allegation surfaced, has been on leave from his priestly duties since April.
"He knew he was under investigation by the attorney general," Matano said when asked why Nichols remained an active priest while under criminal investigation. "That's probably the best monitoring system he could have had."
Matano said the diocese learned about the incident in August 2005 from a person other than the alleged victim, who wished to remain anonymous. He said the diocese investigated the matter and in November reported what it had found to the Attorney General's Office.
Cindy Maguire, an assistant attorney general, declined to comment Friday on the charge facing Nichols.
If Nichols is arraigned Monday as expected, it will be only the second time in the diocese's recent history that one of its parish priests has been charged criminally. In 1990, the Rev. Michael Madden of Barton was charged with two counts of sexual assault on a minor. Madden later pleaded no contest to two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct.
The diocese is facing 23 civil lawsuits in Chittenden County Superior Court filed by people who alleged that as altar boys they were molested years ago by Catholic priests. One of the cases was settled out of court in April for $965,000.
Matano, who took over as bishop of the diocese last year, appeared glum as he departed the news conference.
"You write the papers," he said to a reporter when asked how he felt. "You know what it does to us."
Matano said he plans to travel to Lyndonville and Danville and conduct Mass at the two Caledonia County parishes Sept. 24.
"I wish to express my deep personal concern for all who have been affected," he said in a statement. "My personal prayers remain with all the parties and I ask everyone to join me in this prayer."
In Nichols' absence, the Rev. Patrick J. Forman is filling in as the temporary priest at the Lyndonville and Danville churches. Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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