Priest Denies Fondling Teen

By Kevin O'Connor
Rutland Herald [Vermont]
September 12, 2006

A Northeast Kingdom priest pleaded innocent Monday to allegations he fondled a naked 18-year-old man after taking him to Canada and buying him beer.

The Rev. Stephen J. Nichols, 46, appeared in Franklin District Court in St. Albans to answer to a felony charge of lewd and lascivious conduct brought against him by the state Attorney General's Office.

Nichols and his lawyer, Mark Kaplan of Burlington, declined to talk to reporters. But in court papers, the priest told friends that his accuser — a St. Johnsbury man identified only by his initials — "was the sexual aggressor and afterwards asked for money to keep quiet."

According to an affidavit written by state investigator Thomas E. Howell, Nichols first met the teenager when the boy was 16 and seeking to convert to Catholicism.

The youth, who was 7 when his father died, was said to have visited Nichols first at St. Elizabeth Church in Lyndonville and then at the parish pastor's home in Richford, a Franklin County town on the Canadian border.

The boy "looked up to Nichols as someone he could talk with as a peer," Howell wrote in the affidavit, as he "had no other males to discuss serious issues with such as a decision to convert."

Nichols offered to mark the young man's 18th birthday in February 2005 by taking him to Montreal, the affidavit said. There, the clergyman allegedly bought the teenager beer, cursed, escorted him to a casino and suggested they enter an adult-only store so he could show him a book about oral sex.

The young man "thought this was a little weird since Nichols was a priest," the affidavit said. But "Nichols


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