After a 10-month investigation, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington released a report on Aug. 22 detailing the names and bios of 40 priests that have served in Vermont and were credibly accused of sexual abuse.
At least 26 of the priests on the list are deceased, plus two more presumed dead. None of the others are currently in ministry.
The list, which dates back to 1950, was compiled by a lay committee made up of seven volunteers, both men and women, who are independent of the diocese. The committee looked at three criteria to determine credibility: whether the allegation was natural, plausible and probable; if it was corroborated by other evidence; or if the accused admitted to the abuse. Meeting just one of these three requirements meant making the list of names.
At a press conference at the diocese in South Burlington held just an hour after the list was released, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne read a statement expressing his deep sorrow over the crimes and his commitment to preventing future abuse.
“These shameful, sinful and criminal acts have been our family secret for generations,” Coyne said. “I have listened to the stories of victims of clergy sexual abuse and will continue to do so. They need to hear over and over again that we believe them. They also need to know that we are doing everything we humanly can to make sure this does not happen again.”
Of the 40 names on the list, four priests spent time at St. John Vianney in South Burlington: Leo J. Courcy Jr. (assistant, Jan. – March 1971); Dennis J. LaRoche (assistant, June 1989- Aug. 1992); James J. McShane Jr. (assistant, 1973-1976); and Emile W. Savary (assistant, 1962-1965).
Three of the four are still living. Savary died in 1966.
Courcy’s public priestly faculties were revoked on Feb. 19, 1993, by Bishop Kenneth A. Angell while Courcy was assigned to St. Augustine Parish in New York City. He was laicized, or defrocked, in 2009 by then-Vermont Bishop Salvatore Matano and Pope Benedict XVI.
LaRoche’s assignment to St. John Vianney ended abruptly when the priest was terminated by the diocese and returned to Maryknoll where, he was ordained. Maryknoll is a society of priests dedicated to overseas missionary work based in Ossining, N.Y. LaRoche left the ministry in February 1993.
McShane was the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Rutland when his public priestly faculties were revoked and he was put on administrative leave in 2002 by Bishop Kenneth Angell. McShane resigned as pastor in January 2003.
Savary died on June 8, 1966, in Colchester while serving as pastor of St. Thomas Church in Underhill Center. A note from the committee states that the first allegation of abuse against Savary was received by the diocese in 1996, some 30 years after the priest’s death.
A call to St. John Vianney for comment by The Other Paper was referred to the diocese directly. Diocese Executive Director of Development and Communication Ellen Kane said that there is an understanding that now the real work begins for the diocese, the victims and their families.
“Releasing these names is the first step to the healing process,” she said. “This isn’t over. This is just the beginning.”
At Thursday’s press conference, Coyne noted that the list will pull mixed reactions from victims, some feeling relief over seeing the names of their perpetrators finally come to light and others feeling a “fresh wound” as they relive their trauma. For the “silent survivors” who have not yet come forward, the bishop reminded them: “I believe you.”
Present at the press conference was former schoolteacher John Mahoney, one of the victims. Now 66, Mahoney was molested several times throughout middle school in the 1960s. His abuser, priest Edward Foster, died in 2000. When asked how he felt about the release of the list and having his perpetrator publicly named, Mahoney was quiet for several moments, overcome with emotion.
“I got a three-word email from someone that I grew up with last night, someone I knew,” Mahoney said. “The email said, ‘Thank you, John.’ That was important for me, to get that affirmation, that what we’re doing here is important for a number of people.”
What is notable about the list is not only the sheer number of priests named, but that, particularly in a small state like Vermont, the mobile nature of the priesthood and the dwindling number of priests in general led to clergy serving in multiple towns all over the state. The four priests associated with St. John Vianney also spent time ministering in Burlington, Winooski, Cambridge, Johnson, St. Albans, Vergennes, Hinesburg, Pittsford, Bellows Falls, Rutland, Newport, Richford and Underhill, as well as with the Boy Scouts and the Vermont Army National Guard, over the course of their careers.
Although Coyne said he hopes there are not many more victims who haven’t yet come forward, he said the diocese expects new allegations to turn up as media outlets continue to cover the story. As a result, the lay committee will stay in place with some of the present members continuing in their roles. Coyne said his main goal is to keep current and future committee members at least one level removed from clergy and staff, so that he has no control over the process.
“I think the wound of this is generational,” Coyne said. “I think it’s going to haunt us for decades still to come. All we can continue to do as a church is do the right thing for the right reasons, one person at a time.”
To read the full committee report, go to www.vermontcatholic.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/08/ReportPriestSexAbuseCasesRCDB.pdf
For the full text of Bishop Coyne’s statement, go to: www.vermontcatholic.org/vermont/the-sins-of-the-past