Whatever happened to the ‘Blogging Bishop’?

VTDigger [Montpelier VT]

June 28, 2023

By Maura Labelle

This commentary is by Maura Labelle of Colchester, who lived at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington in the 1960s.

n January 2015, Bishop Christopher Coyne was installed with much fanfare as 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Burlington. He was new. He was modern and open. Coyne was heralded for his work as a blogging priest who would become the first “blogging bishop.” 

Victims of clergy abuse hoped he could be their champion.

Let’s fast forward to 2023. Coyne no longer has a blog. He rarely posts messages on Twitter. His Facebook page says that he can’t respond to Facebook messages due to “time constraints.” 

Most disappointing was that clergy abuse victims had not found their champion. Rather, they found a company man of the Catholic church who goes along to get along.

Clearly, something has changed. My guess is that Coyne is feeling the heat from multiple clergy sex abuse lawsuits against the diocese he leads and is under the advice of his attorneys to avoid social media situations that will call into question the church’s response to pedophilia within its ranks. Yes, highly paid attorneys are now running the Diocese of Burlington.

In a 2015 Associated Press article by Wilson Ring, Coyne stated a goal of having the church shift from being a “church of the establishment” to being a “missionary church.” He defined this as “a church that needs to go out, really engage, talk to, invite, encourage people to embrace the faith that we have that is such a gift to us.” 

Oh, how things have changed. Fear of bankruptcy in the diocese has altered Coyne’s approach. My belief is that he won’t comment on Facebook not because of so-called time constraints, but because he is afraid to have a dialogue on the church’s abuse crisis that might be used against the church in court. The same goes for the shutdown of his blog and his sporadic use of Twitter.

The latest challenge to Coyne, by heralded “Ghosts of the Orphanage” author Christine Kenneally — to release the names of nuns credibly accused of abuse — has been greeted with silence. Where is the openness that was heralded upon Coyne’s arrival in Vermont? What is he afraid of? 

As a survivor of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, I know for sure that nuns abused children. That abuse was also documented by former Attorney General TJ Donovan in his report on physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the orphanage.

In a meeting I had with Coyne, he told me that he had sent the remaining Sisters of Providence who had worked at the orphanage back to Canada in 2015. I was outraged. What evidence might have left the country with them? Canada did not allow Attorney General Donovan to question the nuns in Canada for his orphanage investigation, so we will never know. 

Coyne’s removal of those nuns from the United States was eerily similar to the decision by Pope John Paul II to bring former Cardinal Bernard Law to the Vatican during the height of the church sex abuse scandal in Boston as rumors swirled about whether Law might be arrested for covering up child sex abuse. Remember, Coyne served as Law’s spokesman at the height of the scandal.

I close with a repeat of advice I have given before. If you were abused by clergy, don’t turn to the diocese. They won’t help you, as they will be more interested in protecting their money. 

Instead, call the police, and then call a lawyer. Don’t be reluctant to sue the church. Money is the only thing that gets Bishop “Coin’s” attention, and may be the sole avenue for making him change his approach to the abuse cases.