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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Priest Shortage Claims Winooski Parish and Two Small Churches

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 1:37 PM

St. Stephen Church in Winooski - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • St. Stephen Church in Winooski
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington is closing a long-running Winooski parish and two rural churches because it doesn't have enough priests to staff them.

St. Stephen Catholic Church on Barlow Street in Winooski will hold its final Sunday mass on June 28 before the parish is dissolved and its assets merged with nearby St. Francis Xavier Parish.

St. Edward Catholic Church in Williamstown and North American Martyrs Catholic Church in Marshfield will also close, on July 1.

The Winooski closure is the first since the diocese announced a strategic plan last year that forecast future mergers. It was triggered by the departure of pastor Stephen Hornat, an Edmundite priest assigned to the parish for the last five years.
Hornat said the Society of St. Edmund, a Catholic order headquartered at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, is also facing a priest shortage and decided to withdraw those assigned to a few area parishes.

Earlier this month, the diocese informed the St. Stephen parish that it didn't have anyone to replace Hornat.

"The decision to close the church was made because of the decline in the number of priests and the inability of the Diocese to assign a priest to serve the community, as well as the very close proximity of St. Francis Xavier Church," said John McDermott, vicar general.

The diocese has lost about 60 percent of priests since 1990, according to figures published in the most recent issue of Vermont Catholic magazine. As of July 1, it will have 57 active priests serving 68 parishes and 114 church buildings, McDermott said. Nearly one-third of active priests are over the age of 60.
All three churches had been closed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, during which time the diocese streamed mass online. Churches statewide were allowed to reopen on June 1 with reduced capacity, per an order from Gov. Phil Scott.

Though barely one square mile in size, Winooski has hosted two Catholic parishes for more than a century, the result of cultural divisions between French and Irish congregants. Originally the Irish parish, St. Stephen is the smaller of the two, with about 175 registered families, Hornat said. Its congregation trended older, but was enlivened by a handful of New American families with children.

"It was a very active parish," he said. "They were very much engaged in social outreach to the Winooski community."

The swift closure has left some longtime members feeling like their community has disintegrated overnight, music director Peg Lesage said.

"In the middle of this pandemic, it seems like one more blow," she said. "We can't even say goodbye the way we would normally say goodbye."

Lesage, who has attended St. Stephen since 1987, said the prospect of trying to join a new church while social gatherings are limited and mass-goers are masked feels daunting.

"It's hard to think about starting over," she said.

There are no immediate plans for the church property. The City of Winooski leases a portion of the land from the parish for the Winooski Senior Center, Lesage said.

McDermott said the pastor at St. Francis Xavier and Bishop Christopher Coyne will hear recommendations from parish members about how to dispose of it.

Last year, the diocese placed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Burlington on the market for $8.5 million. The listing is still online.

Catholic church membership in Vermont has dropped from 142,000 in 1990 to 112,000 in 2019, the diocesan magazine reported. Annual infant baptisms have dropped by 80 percent. Funerals, meanwhile, are down just 12 percent. 

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

UVM Medical Center Forced Nurses to Assist With Abortions, Regulator Claims

Posted By on Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 3:50 PM

University of Vermont Medical Center - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • University of Vermont Medical Center
The federal Office for Civil Rights on Wednesday accused the University of Vermont Medical Center of illegally forcing nurses to assist in abortions despite their religious objections.

But the hospital disputed those findings and criticized the office for a blindsiding public announcement that made a national example of UVM Medical Center in the Trump administration's effort to expand protections for religious objectors. 

The medical center also defended its approach to balancing protections for employees' beliefs with patients' access to legal care.

UVM Medical Center could lose federal funding if it refuses to change its policies.

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Catholic Diocese Names 39 Priests 'Credibly Accused' of Sex Abuse in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Aug 22, 2019 at 3:25 PM

Bishop Christopher Coyne at Thursday's press conference - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • Bishop Christopher Coyne at Thursday's press conference
In seeking to atone for the lengthy history of sexual misdeeds by clergy, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington released a report Thursday morning that details the names and biographies of 39 priests since 1950 who have been credibly accused of abusing children in Vermont.

“These sins of the past continue to haunt us,” Bishop Christopher Coyne told reporters during a press conference at the diocese headquarters on Joy Drive in South Burlington. “These shameful, sinful and criminal acts have been our family secret for generations.”

Last November, a committee of seven men and women began reviewing thousands of documents related to 52 clergy members who’d served in Vermont since 1950 and who had been accused of abuse.

The committee considered three criteria to determine whether a priest was credibly accused: whether the allegation was "natural, plausible and probable"; corroborated by other evidence; or admitted to by the accused.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

During Evangelist's Swing Through Vermont, Picketers Greet His Flock

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 10:10 PM

Protesters outside Champlain Valley Expo - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Protesters outside Champlain Valley Expo
A rainbow-themed welcome wagon greeted the thousands who drove to Champlain Valley Exposition on Tuesday to hear evangelist Franklin Graham's star-spangled message of sin and salvation. 

Fifty or so picketers bearing LGBTQ pride flags, bodysuits and hoodies flanked the entrance to the Expo grounds in an eccentric, polite protest of the preacher's anti-gay positions. One man played an accordion.

Rebecca Roose tied a pride flag around her neck like a cape and held a fluorescent sign that offered "Free hugs for sinners."

"I don't believe in the hate he is spewing, and I needed to do something, even though I have protest fatigue," she said.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Protest Planned at Franklin Graham Event in Essex Junction

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2019 at 7:36 PM

Franklin Graham's tour buses at Perkins Pier on Monday - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • Franklin Graham's tour buses at Perkins Pier on Monday
Protesters plan to picket outside a Tuesday evening event by celebrity evangelist Franklin Graham that's expected to draw thousands to the Champlain Valley Exposition.

Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, preaches a politicized form of evangelical Christianity that's outspokenly anti-LGBTQ. He's also described Islam as an "evil" religion and suggested that God helped President Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016. He supports so-called conversion therapy.

"He's not just a Christian evangelist," said protest organizer Carol Price, of Bristol. "He does have an underside, and that is hate speech and intolerance."

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Catholic Diocese Reviews Sexual Abuse Allegations Involving 52 Priests

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2019 at 10:12 PM

Bishop Christopher Coyne - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Bishop Christopher Coyne
A lay committee created by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has identified 52 former or deceased priests accused of sexually abusing children in Vermont. The names of those with substantiated allegations against them will be released as soon as next month, Bishop Christopher Coyne said Thursday night at St. Mary's Church in St. Albans.

About 75 people attended the first in a series of what the bishop calls public town hall meetings around the state this month.

The meetings are being held as the diocese faces a fresh investigation led by the Vermont Attorney General's Office into decades-old abuse of children at the former St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Bishop Coyne to Empanel Committee to Examine Abuse Claims

Posted By on Wed, Oct 10, 2018 at 12:03 PM

Bishop Christopher Coyne - FILE: MATTHEW ROY
  • File: Matthew Roy
  • Bishop Christopher Coyne
Vermont Bishop Christopher Coyne announced on Wednesday that he is creating an independent panel of laypeople to review clergy personnel files and draft a public list of state priests accused of sexual abuse.

The announcement comes as allegations of widespread priest abuse coverups in Pennsylvania have roiled the Catholic church. Locally, the Vermont diocese has grappled with allegations of horrific abuse at the long-shuttered St. Joseph's Orphanage.

Coyne did not provide a timeline for release of the list, but said he would convey "a sense of urgency" to the committee. He said he would soon reach out to potential committee members. Coyne is scheduled to hold a press conference later Wednesday.

"The crimes of the past were horrific and the damage to the victims and their loved ones horrendous," Coyne said in a prepared statement. "We will never be able to apologize adequately but will continue to try and hopefully have some positive impact in their lives going forward."

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Coyne Releases Orphanage Victims From Confidentiality Agreements

Posted By on Fri, Sep 28, 2018 at 12:51 PM

Bishop Christopher Coyne - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Bishop Christopher Coyne
Bishop Christopher Coyne on Friday said the diocese is waiving nondisclosure agreements struck with St. Joseph's Orphanage abuse victims in past legal settlements.

The decision is part of an effort to aid a new investigation into abuse claims at St. Joseph's, which closed in 1974. It comes as the bishop has repeatedly pledged to cooperate with a law enforcement task force overseeing the inquiry.

"They are now free to tell the story of what happened to them as they see fit," Coyne said in a prepared statement.

Some former residents of the Burlington orphanage sued the diocese in the 1990s and settled their cases. Coyne said that since 2002, the diocese has not asked survivors to sign NDAs as part of settlements.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Authorities Say Investigating St. Joseph's Orphanage Abuse Won't Be Easy

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 2:42 PM

The former orphanage - NATALIE WILLIAMS
  • Natalie Williams
  • The former orphanage
Even as Vermont law enforcement officials announced Monday the formation of a task force to investigate claims of abuse at the long-shuttered St. Joseph's Catholic Orphanage, they acknowledged the challenges that it will face.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan suggested that the probe, prompted by a recent Buzzfeed story detailing decades of abuse suffered by children, could focus more on fact-finding than legal action. The story includes claims that children died at the hands of nuns.

Many of the victims and alleged perpetrators are dead or elderly, and the statutes of limitation have expired for many acts at the North Avenue orphanage, which closed in 1974.

"While there may be challenges given the current state of our laws ... there should be no challenge to bringing truth and reconciliation and closure and justice for victims," Donovan said. He added, "Justice doesn't always occur in a courtroom."

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Burlington Police Will Investigate Claims of Abuse at St. Joseph's Orphanage

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 1:17 PM

The former orphanage - NATALIE WILLIAMS
  • Natalie Williams
  • The former orphanage
Updated at 4:48 p.m.

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said his department will launch an inquiry into allegations made in a recent Buzzfeed story about decades of abuse at the St. Joseph's Catholic Orphanage.

Del Pozo provided few details, but said he was meeting with the Vermont Attorney General's Office Friday and has been in discussions with Mayor Miro Weinberger about investigating the allegations of physical, mental and sexual abuse at St. Joseph's. The Buzzfeed article includes allegations that children were killed.

The orphanage closed in 1974. The imposing North Avenue building became part of Burlington College before it was turned into housing.

"It's safe to say that the mayor and I feel it's in the interests of justice to offer a full accounting of the crimes," del Pozo said. "We feel it's the duty of the state to do so."

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