Nuns recall abuses at St. Joseph's Orphanage
(Photo: Preservation Burlington/courtesy)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was first published on May 17, 1998. The Burlington Free Press is republishing stories about sexual abuse that took place at the St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington in the 1950s and 1960s.
For the first time, nuns and priests have confirmed some children at the now-closed St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington were sexually and physically abused.
Their acknowledgments, made in sworn depositions, involve isolated incidents and are much less sweeping than the allegations of systematic abuse made by dozens of former residents of the home.
Nonetheless, the statements by four nuns and two priests who worked at the orphanage weaken claims by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington that abuse charges cannot be corroborated.
More than 100 former St. Joseph's residents have charged in recent years that they and others were beaten and molested, tormented and humiliated. Twenty-four have suits pending against the diocese and related organizations.
They found some support in court depositions filed last week. Monsignor Edward Foster, for example, worked at the orphanage as a seminarian in the late 1940s. The now-retired priest recalled a young boy, Roger Barber, who was brought to him by two nuns in 1947 or 1948. The boy's buttocks had been burned so badly by an orphanage janitor that he could not sit down.
"I was really taken aback because on his buttocks were two wounds which I learned were burns," Foster said. "I can almost see them today. They were the size of a half dollar."
Historic photo of the St. Joseph’s Orphanage on Burlington’s North Avenue. (Photo: Preservation Burlington/courtesy)
Foster related how he asked Barber how it happened. "He said `Fred did this to me,''' Foster said. "He said `He burned me and he burned me with a lightbulb.'''
Foster said the now-deceased janitor, Fred Adams, was fired immediately.
Lawyers for the nuns and the diocese did not respond last week to requests for comment about the depositions. The allegations
The seven priests and nuns were among a number of church people and lay staff members who were questioned in depositions by lawyers for the former church matters and that if any abuse did occur, it was not in the line of a nun's or priest's work and therefore the church is not responsible for it.
This week's filing is in answer to the church's motion to dismiss the Dale case, among others. Lawyers for the former residents are attempting to demonstrate that the claims Dale made are supported by other witnesses and that, in some cases, priests or nuns knew about the abuse.
In one deposition attached to this week's filing, for example, the former director of Vermont Catholic Charities confirms he was told about a volunteer worker who had engaged in homosexual activity with some older boys at the orphanage in 1967.
"We just let him we told him not to come around anymore, that's all," Father Paul Bresnehan said, referring to how the matter was handled. "We didn't go any farther than that."
This week's filings are the latest development in the ongoing scrutiny of life at the orphanage since former resident Joseph Barquin sued the diocese in 1993, alleging he had been abused while a toddler at the orphanage in 1951.
Barquin accepted an out-of-court settlement in 1996.
In the intervening years, the diocese has paid $5,000 apiece to more than 60 former residents in return for an agreement not to sue the church.
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