Vermont Priest to Change Plea in Sex Case

Burlington Free Press
April 27, 2007

St. Albans — A priest whose sex case was to go to trial next month has requested a change-of-plea hearing.

The Rev. Stephen J. Nichols, 47, pleaded not guilty last September to allegations that he fondled a naked 18-year-old. He is charged with lewd and lascivious conduct, the only current Vermont priest facing a felony charge.

His trial was set for May 9. But a change-of-plea hearing has been scheduled for Monday in Vermont District Court in St. Albans.

According to a police affidavit, the unidentified St. Johnsbury man said that in April 2005, Nichols took him to Canada, where they went drinking in a pool hall.

When they returned to Nichols' home in Richford, Nichols allegedly touched the man in the shower, later in the living room and then got into bed with him, the affidavit said. The victim repeatedly asked Nichols to stop, the affidavit said.

When they drove back to St. Johnsbury later that day, Nichols allegedly told the man several times not to tell anyone about the incident. But Nichols has said his accuser was the aggressor and that the man asked him for money to keep quiet about what had happened.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington hired a private investigator to look into the allegations, and an investigator called the accuser "calm, straightforward and credible in his account of what had happened."

Nichols, who has served as director of the Vermont Catholic Church's lay ministry training program, is on a leave of absence as pastor of St. Elizabeth Church in Lyndonville and Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Danville.


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