|Adults Worry That
Church Won't Confess Its Sins
Case of Joey Barquin against the St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum, Burlington, VT and other accusations of pedophilia against the Catholic Church
By Sally Johnson
Insight on the News
August 22, 1994
In Canada Vermont, thousands of adults say they have similar memories of abuse at the hands of clergy operating different orphanages. Seeking restitution, they've filed suit. But lawyers for the accused religious orders and a Catholic adoption agency argue that the allegations are too old and too diffuse to go to trial.
Joey Barquin vividly recalls his two years at the St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum in Burlington, Vt., as the worst of his life. Now 46 years old and living in Venice, Ma., Barquin's memory of names and dates is inexact, as recollections from childhood tend to be. But he says he is quite clear about what happened to him and other orphans who lived at St. Joseph's in the early 1950s.
"People were bludgeoned, beaten, raped and maimed," says Barquin. "It's hard to describe what happened in that place. I knew it - I remembered it in graphic detail - but for years I couldn't bring myself to tell anybody."
Now Barquin is telling his story to anyone who will listen. In September 1993, he brought a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vermont. Also named in the U.S. District Court suit are Vermont Catholic Charities, the social services agency allegedly responsible for placing children in the orphanage, as well as Sister Jane Doe," one of the nuns who allegedly abused Barquin as a child.
Even before it comes to trial, Barquin's case has broken new legal ground, according to attorneys familiar with the myriad of sexual abuse cases brought against the Roman Catholic Church during the past decade, primarily for sexual abuse by priests and other male clergy.
A Vermont probate judge in April ordered the unsealing of Barquin's adoption records - he was adopted out of the orphanage in 1953 - to help him find relatives who could testify he had not been abused or scarred as an infant. "It's extremely hard to get a judge to open adoption records," says Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston attorney whose firm has handled some 250 cases of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, the vast majority Catholic. "I would say it's extremely rare for a judge to do that."
Another remarkable - but no longer unique - feature of this case: It involves allegations of sexual, physical and mental abuse by nuns, in this case the Montreal-based Sisters of Providence. Such allegations of abuse by nuns are rare, according to Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney in St. Paul, Minn., whose firm specializes in child abuse cases involving Roman Catholic clergy. "We've handled over 300 cases of sexual molestation by clergy in 30 states"' says Anderson. "Only three of them have involved nuns. We don't typically see women involved in predatory, aggressive behavior."
Yet, the same order that ran the Burlington asylum - the Sisters of Providence - is one of eight religious orders named in a lawsuit brought by more than 1,000 former orphans in Quebec, whose tales of physical and mental torture are chillingly similar to Barquin's.
Although Barquin is still the only plaintiff in the Vermont case, the lawsuit opened a floodgate of response from other alleged victims. In response, Barquin and his attorney, Philip White of Montpelier, Vt., have established a monthly support group so people may tell their stories.
"From the minute I first went on television, dozens and dozens of people have come forward"' says Barquin. "These people are wrecks, their lives are a mess as a result of this. I'm like the guy in the dark cave who lit the first match."
Coralyn Sheperd, 42, who still lives in Burlington, protests her treatment by keeping a weekly vigil outside the headquarters of the diocese, housed in the same lakefront complex of brick buildings as the now-empty orphanage. And although her three-hour Thursday vigil has elicited response from passersby - sometimes obscenities, sometimes waves of sympathy - she thinks it is not enough. "We were hit with fists, we were beaten and humiliated. I was molested by a priest"' says Sheperd, who organized a group vigil outside the asylum on July 6 after church authorities refused her request to allow a group tour of the empty facility.
William O'Brien, attorney for the Diocese of Vermont, says: "The Bishop [Kenneth Angell] has expressed pastoral concern for all people. Whether or not the allegations are true, he offers to render assistance without making any admission of liability. Many of these cases date back 30 years or more, so it is difficult to ascertain the truthfulness of these claims. We want to see whether reasonable accommodations can be made, but we won't give away the farm."
According to John Gravel, attorney for Vermont Catholic Charities, the case "seems to be headed to trial."
Joey Barquin's tale begins in February 1948. His given name, he has since learned, was Clifton Lawrence Balazs. Born in the New York City area, he was sent to live in the Burlington orphanage in May 1951. He was adopted by the Barquin family of Barre, Vt., in May 1953.
According to his allegations, what happened to him in the orphanage is
the stuff of horror movies, one directed by a modern-day Marquis de Sade.
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