Vergennes Parishioners Backing Catholic Priest under Investigation

Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 29, 2002

Parishioners of St. Peter's Church are rallying behind their priest, one of six currently under suspension while the state investigates sexual misconduct charges against him.

Almost 400 of the church's 500 members have signed a petition in support of the Rev. Donal Ward.

Ward left St. Peter's Church upon orders of Bishop Kenneth Angell of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington last Friday, but not before defending himself in a sermon to his parish and a two-page statement released by his lawyer.

Parishioners have responded by sending Angell a petition "asking that you express your full trust and support of Father Donal Ward to restore his good name," a cover letter says.

"The members of the parish want him to continue to serve our Catholic community," it continued.

Ward has said his review stems from putting on a swimsuit in the same locker room as boys ages 10 to 18 when he was serving in Barre, Danville and Marshfield more than a decade ago.

Petition signers in Vergennes say there is a difference between changing clothes in a public locker room and sexually assaulting children.

"The parishioners at St. Peter's really have been quite angry and outraged at the way this has been handled," parishioner George Jaeger of New Haven said Tuesday. "They're putting him through the wringer."

Both the Vermont Catholic Diocese and state Attorney General's Office continue to decline to speak about specific cases.

"The bishop just feels we need to keep to 'no comment' on anything about allegations under investigation," diocesan spokeswoman Gloria Gibson said Tuesday.

Neither the church nor the state have named the priests, although the Rev. James McShane of Rutland and the Rev. John Milanese of Randolph have confirmed they are on leave because of the review.


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