Priest Says Victim Was Aggressor

Sun Journal
September 12, 2006

St. Albans, Vt. (AP) - A Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting a teenager told police the alleged victim was the aggressor in the incident, and that he later tried to extort money from the priest, according to an affidavit made public Monday.

The Rev. Stephen Nichols of St. Elizabeth's Church in Lyndonville pleaded not guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct during his arraignment in Vermont District Court.

The charge stems from an April 2005 incident in Richford that occurred about two years after the two met at a St. Johnsbury diner, where the alleged victim worked.

During that period, the 18-year-old victim - identified in court papers as "CRF" - visited a house in Richford that Nichols co-owned with another priest six or seven times, and hosted Nichols at his own home two or three times, according to the affidavit by Thomas E. Howell, an investigator for the state Attorney General's Office.

In one trip they took to Quebec Nichols saw an adult bookstore and suggested the two go in, which they did, according to the affidavit.

"CRF thought this was a little weird, since Nichols was a priest," Howell said in the five-page affidavit.

The alleged victim, who reported the April 2005 incident to State Police in St. Johnsbury within days, was referred to the State Police barracks in St. Albans, since the incident allegedly occurred in Richford, according to Cindy Maguire, the prosecutor in the case.

The Diocese of Burlington learned about it through an anonymous tip last August, and hired a private investigator to look into it before turning it over to the Attorney General's Office, Maguire said.

Maguire said the complaint could have been handled faster.

"We're happy that the church did make the referral. The timing of that was delayed, which I don't think is a good practice for any organization."

After being told about the investigation, Nichols told State Police Lt. Ed Ledo - a parishioner and friend - that the victim was a young man with a troubled past to whom he'd loaned, the affidavit said.

According to Nichols, the incident occurred when the alleged victim was taking a shower and called out to Nichols, saying the faucet wasn't working, the affidavit said. When Nichols reached in to adjust it, the victim grabbed Nichols' hand and put on his genitals, the affidavit said.

Nichols said he withdrew his hand and walked out of the bathroom, but that soon afterward, the alleged victim approached him and asked him how much his life was worth to him, according to the affidavit.

Nichols told Ledo the alleged victim wasn't going to get a "damned dime" out of him, the affidavit said.

In court Monday, Nichols dressed as a civilian, with a black suit jacket and dark tie. Accompanied by attorney Mark Kaplan, he did not speak to reporters after the arraignment.

Bishop Salvatore Matano, the spiritual leader of Vermont's Catholic community, did.

"Now, this is a matter for the courts to decide. Now, I pray for a just resolution and I pray for all the parties concerned."


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