Catholic Church Settles Priest Misconduct

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 7, 2004

Vermont's Catholic Church has paid $120,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing a priest of child sexual abuse.

In return, Michael Bernier, a 46-year-old California investment firm executive, has dropped his court case against the Diocese of Burlington and the Rev. James McShane, who worked as director of the state church's Office of Youth Ministry and chaplain for the Vermont Boy Scouts and Catholic Camp Holy Cross in Colchester, resigned as a Rutland pastor last year.

Bernier says he was a 12-year-old parochial school student in St. Albans when McShane repeatedly "sexually abused, sexually exploited and sexually assaulted" him around 1970.

Bernier filed charges against McShane and the diocese a year and a half ago. Defense lawyers have tried for months to dismiss the case.

Bernier sought and eventually won permission to review more than 50 years of Vermont church files on all clergy misconduct but decided to settle rather than wait for pending court motions to be decided.

"Besides what happened to me, I didn't need to be re-victimized by them dragging their feet and trying to wear me down," Bernier said. "With the money they spent on defense, they could have settled a long time ago. But I have to let go of that. I need time to heal and to get on with my life and so does everybody else. People need to be able to have faith in the church again."

The diocese's lawyer William M. O'Brien of Winooski confirmed the Bernier settlement.

"We have no evidence to suggest Father McShane abused Michael Bernier, but we are taking Mr. Bernier's allegations at face value," O'Brien said Saturday.

McShane could not be reached for comment.

The diocese's settlement comes after it agreed to pay at least two other recent accusers a total of $118,000 to drop the church portion of their civil lawsuits against priests.

The church still faces at least one more civil lawsuit in Chittenden Superior Court. Robert Douglas II, 38, of Burlington, alleges the former Rev. Alfred Willis sexually abused and exploited him as a child at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Milton around 1979. Lawyers for the diocese and Douglas are working to settle that case, too.

Bernier's lawsuit said the diocese was liable because it not only ordained McShane, but also placed him "in a situation where he had the opportunity to and did molest and otherwise sexually abuse a number of pre-teen and teenage boys." The lawsuit added the diocese had "actual knowledge" of some of McShane's alleged misconduct "but took no action to remove him from the priesthood or to investigate his well-known proclivities."


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