Vt. AG Will Probe Abuse By Catholics
By Colin Meyn
September 07, 2018
Montpelier — Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan will open an investigation into abuse within Vermont’s Catholic Church, including at the St. Joseph’s orphanage.
The announcement comes days after BuzzFeed published a lengthy investigation into horrifying abuses at the Catholic-run facility in Burlington.
“We’ll do an investigation,” Donovan said in an interview on Friday. “Certainly it will be about the allegations specifically about St. Joseph’s, but my sense is we will also look at some larger issues involved here.”
He added that he would hold a news conference with other law enforcement officials next week to give further details about the investigation.
“I think we will have more to say Monday morning, but obviously what’s in my mind certainly is the grand jury report from Pennsylvania,” he said.
That report accused 300 Catholic priests across the state of sexually abusing children over seven decades.
“We are concerned about any allegations of abuse,” Donovan said. “Any allegations of any sort of cover up is something we will look at.”
Donovan said the task force conducting the investigation will include the Attorney General’s Office, Vermont State Police, the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Burlington Police Department.
Adam Silverman, a Vermont State Police spokesman, said in an email on Friday that the agency “will investigate any complaints received in our area of responsibility and work with any other agencies if they ask for assistance.”
“We have received no complaints or requests at this time,” he added.
Following the attorney general’s announcement of Monday’s news conference, Silverman sent another email confirming that state police will be part of the task force.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo confirmed his police department’s plans to the alternative weekly Seven Days earlier in the day.
Contacted by VtDigger later in the afternoon, he confirmed his comments in that story, but declined to answer further questions until the news conference on Monday.
Allegations contained in the BuzzFeed article date back as far as the 1940s. The orphanage closed in the 1970s.
The statute of limitations in Vermont for adults to bring civil claims is six years after a person “realizes they were damaged,” which has hindered previous cases against the St. Joseph nuns. There is no statute of limitations on a criminal charge of murder in Vermont.
Vermont will join at least seven other states whose attorneys general have opened some sort of investigation or review of the Catholic Church following a bombshell report on systemic and sustained abuses at the hands of the clergy in Pennsylvania.
The other states that have announced probes into the Catholic Church are New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico.
The states differ in how they are going about this work.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood on Thursday subpoenaed all Roman Catholic dioceses in the state. New Jersey will set up a task force with subpoena power to compel testimony and obtain documents.
Following the BuzzFeed report describing decades of child abuse at St. Joseph’s — and even nuns killing children — Donovan told the website in an article published on Aug. 29 that he was “horrified and angry.”
“My heart breaks for all the victims that endured and suffered this abuse,” Donovan said. “My office remains committed to the prevention, investigation and prosecution of child abuse wherever it may occur.”
Donovan is running for re-election in November against Rep. Janssen Willhoit, R-St. Johnsbury, a defense attorney who is leaving his seat in the House and made a late entry into the statewide race.
He also announced this week that Vermont is suing Purdue Pharma, the producer of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, for deceptively marketing the drug for years, leading to an opioid crisis gripping Vermont and the nation.