The Diocese of Burlington (“the Diocese”), which was established in 1853, encompasses the state of Vermont. It consists of 83 parishes, 15 elementary schools, and two high schools and serves 149,000 registered Catholics with 39 deacons and 127 diocesan priests. The Most Reverend Kenneth A. Angell, who was installed as bishop in 1992, leads the Diocese. A compliance audit of the Diocese was conducted during the period of June 23-27, 2003.
The information set forth below represents conditions as they were found to exist during the week of the audit. Information regarding necessary corrective actions taken by the Diocese subsequent to the audit will be found in the last paragraph.
To Promote Healing and Reconciliation
The Diocese of Burlington Policies on Ethics and Integrity in Ministry contains information about outreach programs and has been disseminated throughout the Diocese. A section of that policy, “The Church’s Pastoral Response to Misconduct in Ministry,” provides for counseling, spiritual assistance, and other services agreed to by the victim/survivor and the diocese. Outreach is coordinated through the victim assistance committee, which was established in December 2002 and comprises Fr. Wendell Searles, the vicar general, and three women with experience in counseling. Searles also serves as the victim assistance coordinator. The committee offers to have the bishop, or his designee, meet with the victim/ survivor. A Recommendation was issued for more timely outreach and follow-up with victims/survivors. A six-member misconduct review board, first established in 1996, comprises four men and two women, including the retired chief of the Burlington Police Department. It was recommended that the Diocese’s recent policy on ethics and integrity incorporate the previous 1996 policy on review board composition and activities. It was also recommended that procedures for filing a complaint need more specificity and dissemination. There have no confidentiality agreements entered into since June 2002.
To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
The Diocese relies on external counsel to make reports of allegations of sexual abuse. The external counsel reports only those cases required by Vermont law, i.e., cases involving a victim/survivor who is still a minor. Representatives of the state attorney general’s office advised that being notified of all cases involving minors, regardless of their age at the time of reporting, would be helpful and that diocesan cooperation with their office was “improving” in that regard. A Recommendation was issued that the Diocese and its counsel expand their dialogue with state attorneys to include information on allegations when the victim/survivor is no longer a minor, and that victims/survivors be advised of their right to file reports with civil authorities. A Recommendation was made to include a provision in the Diocese of Burlington Policies on Ethics and Integrity in Ministry for an alleged offender to be afforded professional assistance for the purposes of healing and well-being, as well as prevention. A detailed, comprehensive code of pastoral conduct was adopted in September 2002 and distributed in the diocesan bulletin in December 2002. The Diocese has established a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness to the extent possible consistent with legal proceedings and confidentiality. The bishop and vicar general have made personal visits to parishes affected by allegations of sexual abuse.
To Ensure Accountability of Procedures
The diocese has participated in the research study regarding the “nature and scope” of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
To Protect the Faithful in the Future
The Diocese has established a safe environment program that provides training for parents, educators, clergy, employees, and volunteers who regularly work with youth. Since 1997, education workshops have been provided for clergy as well as Catholic school teachers and staff of recreational camps. Training for volunteers is also provided upon request from parishes. Through the volunteer initiative of the retired Burlington chief of police a draft policy is being prepared for conducting background evaluations of all diocesan personnel. The draft policy addresses the use of the Vermont Crime Information Center or other jurisdictional crime information centers where appropriate. No priests with a history of abuse of minors have been transferred for ministry; one such priest moved to another diocese. A Recommendation was issued that the bishop notify the bishop in the cleric’s new residence and confidentially provide pertinent background information to him. The bishop of Burlington meets with the leaders of the two clerical institutes in Vermont and intends to address their respective roles in responding to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. The Diocese employs screening and evaluation techniques in determining the fitness of candidates for ordination. The Diocese has a systematic ongoing formation program for clergy.
Compliance with the Provisions of the Charter
At the conclusion of the audit, the Diocese of Burlington was issued six Recommendations.
RECOMMENDATION 1—That the Diocese specify the steps to be taken when a complaint of sexual abuse is received, in order to ensure a prompt response to victims/survivors’ needs, including a procedure to advise victims/survivors of their right to make a report to public authorities.
RECOMMENDATION 2—That the Diocese detail the composition and activity of the review board in the current Diocese of Burlington Policies on Ethics and Integrity in Ministry or other appropriate reference.
RECOMMENDATION 3—That the Diocese publicize the procedures for making a complaint of abuse and the identity and contact number(s) of the person to whom the complaint is to be made.
RECOMMENDATION 4—That the Diocese and diocesan counsel expand their dialogue with appropriate assistant state attorneys regarding the reporting of allegations of abuse when the victim/survivor is no longer a minor.
RECOMMENDATION 5—That the Diocese include a provision in Diocese of Burlington Policies on Ethics and Integrity in Ministry for an alleged offender to be afforded professional assistance for the purposes of healing and well-being, as well as prevention.
RECOMMENDATION 6—That, when a cleric against whom a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor has been made moves outside the Diocese, the Diocese of Burlington ensure that the bishop in the cleric’s new diocese is advised in writing about the cleric’s identity and any credible allegation of sexual abuse.
As of December 1, 2003, the six Recommendations had been addressed. The Diocese of Burlington is found to be in compliance with the provisions of the Charter as measured by the process described in Chapter 2 in Section I.
The compliance audit measured activity that has occurred since the adoption of the Charter in June 2002 with the exception of certain mandated actions found in Articles 5 and 14. Actions taken by the diocese/eparchy prior to June 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons are not included in this summary report.
Office of Child and Youth Protection
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194
(202) 541-5413 | FAX: (202) 541-5410