VTDigger [Montpelier VT]
May 13, 2021
By Alan J. Keays
Brenda Hannon calls it a source of healing.
Gov. Phil Scott signed into law Wednesday a bill, S.99, that eliminates a three-year limit on filing civil lawsuits over childhood physical abuse. Two years ago, the Legislature eliminated the time limit on filing civil lawsuits over sexual abuse.
“It feels like a pressure off of us, that we have done some good for future children and society,” said Hannon, 68, a member of the Voices of St. Joseph’s. “It makes us feel like we are being healed from all the trauma that we endured.”
Members of Voices of St. Joseph’s, a group for former residents of the orphanage, testified in recent weeks before the House and Senate Judiciary committees about the abuses they suffered at the now-shuttered St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington, operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vermont.
Some spoke through tears as they recounted abuse from priests, nuns and others who worked at the orphanage.
They talked of beatings they endured, sex acts they were forced to perform, being locked in closets and hearing the screams of other young people held in similar confinement, at times for things as minor as not finishing a meal.
“It was a pit of despair in that place,” Hannon said on Thursday of her experience at the orphanage from 1959 through August 1968.
“They did not look out for the welfare and the safety of the children,” she said. “It was like we were almost abandoned there and nobody really listened to us.”
During her time there, Hannon said, “I always waited for someone to rescue me.”https://ca3c597c9295f8d398b6536dee934137.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The orphanage operated from 1854 to 1974 on North Avenue in Burlington.
The legislation was prompted by allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the Burlington orphanage and at New England Kurn Hattin Homes for Children, a private residential school in Westminster.
After an investigation that concluded in 2020, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office found that the orphanage had a history of abuse that extended back decades, but because of the statute of limitations on criminal acts, no charges could be filed.
A VTDigger expose last fall detailed decades of allegations of sexual and physical abuse at Kurn Hattin.
Hannon said she was surprised at how quickly the bill moved through the Legislature and gained the governor’s signature.
She said she wished she’d known the governor was signing the bill so members of the Voices of St. Joseph’s could have watched on Zoom.
“It does mean so much to us,” Hannon said of herself and other group members. Speaking of the lawmakers who passed the bill and the governor who signed it, “They believed in us and our children.”
Hannon said she still can’t even drive by the former orphanage in Burlington.
“I have never set foot on those grounds since I left in August of ’68, never, I can’t,” she said. “I feel like if I get too close to that place, the evil is going to grab me and I’ll never get back out again.”