St. Albans Native Sues Church, Alleges Sexual Abuse

By Brent Hallenbeck
Burlington Free Press (Burlington, VT)
October 1, 2002

A St. Albans native living in California has filed suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, alleging that a priest sexually molested him.

Mike Bernier, 45 and living in San Jose, Calif., claims in the suit that the Rev. James McShane abused him as a youth while McShane was a priest at St. Mary's Parish in St. Albans. The abuse happened on church-sponsored social outings including hiking, camping and swimming trips and visits to saunas, according to Bernier's lawsuit.

McShane, who most recently served in Rutland, is one of six priests placed on leave in May after the diocese forwarded information about possible sexual-abuse cases to the Vermont Attorney General's Office.

Bernier filed the suit in July but information was sealed after lawyers for the statewide diocese and McShane filed motions to dismiss. Vermont Superior Court Judge Matthew Katz denied the motions Wednesday and unsealed the case.

Bernier, who moved 13 years ago from Vermont to California, said Monday that he did not want to elaborate on his lawsuit. The suit does not specify monetary damages being sought.

"I'm going to stand by what the lawsuit has in it," Bernier said. "I want to make sure this doesn't happen again from this man and others. This is something that has torn me apart recently."

Papers filed in the diocese's unsuccessful attempt to dismiss the case noted that the suit fails to include Bernier's age when the alleged acts occurred and the dates of those alleged acts. William O'Brien, lawyer for the diocese, said Monday that McShane was assigned to St. Albans in the early 1970s.

Jerome O'Neill, a Burlington lawyer representing Bernier, said Monday that the allegations stem from the late 1960s and early 1970s, in Bernier's pre-teen and teenage years. He would not give details on when or how many times the alleged acts occurred.

"I'd rather let the case speak for itself," O'Neill said. "We've got a pretty good idea what happened and when."

The lawsuit alleges that McShane "had the opportunity to and did molest and otherwise sexually abuse a number of pre-teen and teenage boys." O'Neill would not elaborate on that Monday.

"We certainly have indications that Michael Bernier is not the only victim," O'Neill said. O'Brien said the diocese has no information about other allegations involving McShane.

Gloria Gibson, spokeswoman for the diocese, said the six priests placed on leave in May remain on leave. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said last week that his office won't file criminal charges against at least two of the suspended priests. He said one case involved a sexual relationship that did not take place until the teen reached the age of consent, and the statute of limitations expired in another case.

One of the priests, the Rev. Donal Ward of St. Peter's Church in Vergennes, resigned last week after acknowledging to his parishioners that he had a sexual relationship with a young man after the youth turned 17, above the age of consent.

O'Brien said the lawsuit against McShane is the first filed against the six suspended Vermont priests.

McShane and his lawyer, Matt Harnett of Rutland, could not be reached for comment Monday.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.