Cardinal Sin | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Cardinal Sin 

Published March 20, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

In Boston, there are growing calls from prominent citizens for Cardinal Bernard Law to resign as archbishop. Since the 1980s, the Cardinal of Boston knew about pedophile priests under his supervision. Instead of reporting the crimes to authorities, he merely transferred the sexual predators to new parishes and new victims.

In Portland, Maine, the Catholic diocese has promised to give the local district attorney church records that contain sexual misconduct accusations made against all “living” priests in the diocese. The district attorney there wants every accusation handed over.

“Even if it was triple hearsay,” Stephanie Anderson told The New York Times. “Let me decide.”

In Vermont, a representative of Attorney General Bill Sorrell has met with William O’Brien, the attorney who represents Bishop Kenneth Angell and the Roman Catholic Diocese. The local church has had a “sexual misconduct” protocol in place since 1996.

Also in that meeting with Mr. O’Brien was Chittenden County State’s Attorney Bob Simpson and two of his deputies. Simpson told Seven Days, “We had questions about prior to 1996, and that’s what we’re pursuing right now. At this point,” he added, “O’Brien’s been cooperative, but time will tell.”

The Catholic Church’s burgeoning sex scandal is not going to go away soon, folks. The public exposure of these cardinal sins will have repercussions that will last for years to come. But for now, Catholics and all Vermonters want to know why the institution that preaches a strict “family values” message has coddled child abusers for so many years.

Under Vermont law, “Any physician, surgeon, osteopath or physican’s assistant, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, medical examiner, dentist, psychologist, school superintendent, school teacher, school librarian, day care worker, school principal, school guidance counselor, mental health professional, social worker, probation officer, police officer, camp owner or camp administrator” who has “reasonable cause to believe” that a Vermont child has been abused, is required to report that information to the authorities within 24 hours. It’s the law.

But you may have noticed that Vermont’s law does not require priests or bishops to call 911. There may not be enough time left on the legislative clock this year, but you can bet that omission will be corrected in the not too distant future.

According to the church policy posted on its Web site,, a complaint about priestly sexual misconduct must be reported to Bishop Angell “in writing” to merit a formal review by the “Diocesan Review Board.”

Non-written complaints to the hierarchy, called “informal” complaints, “shall be acted upon in a manner deemed appropriate by the Bishop.”

Once the board completes its work, the results go straight to the Big Angell. If an allegation cannot be “substantiated,” the church may still offer counseling services to the victim or the accused.

If an allegation of misconduct is substantiated, the board can recommend “sanctions,” as well as counseling. Ten possible “sanctions” are enumerated, from “removal from priestly faculties” to being “required” to stop the sexual hanky-panky or even undergo psychotherapy.

What is wrong with this picture, folks?

Everywhere else in Vermont, an adult who sexually violates a child is a criminal. What makes the Catholic Church and its priests exempt from Vermont law?

That is the question Vermont law enforcement officials are pondering this week. Attorney General Sorrell is in Washington, D.C., this week attending a meeting of the nation’s attorneys general. He told Seven Days he definitely will be talking to the AGs from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts about their responses to the sordid sex crimes cover-up by Catholic bigwigs.

Mr. Sorrell said the state would like to know more about priestly misconduct going back longer than six years.

“If there is a history,” said Sorrell, “you want to know about it.” He told Seven Days, “We’ve asked for more information” from the diocese about previous allegations against priests in Vermont.

William Hartigan Sorrell is himself a Roman Catholic. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame (1970). And, like many Catholics, General Billy is deeply troubled by the revelations of sexual misconduct by holy men.

In the Catholic Church, the priests rule. Each is lord of his own little parish. In the confessional box, Catholics tell priests the deepest, darkest secrets of their souls.

Sorrell said the church teachings that call for “forgiveness and redemption” come to mind. And he said he can understand how bishops may want to “protect an institution.”

But Vermont’s top law enforcement official said that if he could offer the church hierarchy one criticism, it would be “not wanting to believe you’ve got a cancer in your midst.”

“The Shepherd should be protecting the flock,” said Sorrell. “The flock is more important than the Shepherd.”

Bishop Angell was out of town Tuesday and unavailable to take our call. Mr. O’Brien, his attorney, also could not be reached for comment.

Tony the Phony? — Boy, oh boy, has the blush come off the Progressive Party rose, or what?

Over the course of the last two weeks, Progressive standard-bearer Anthony Pollina has gone from boy-next-door to unindicted co-conspirator. Unbelievable.

In a game where perception counts, Tony the Prog went to federal court last Friday to try to squelch an investigation that hasn’t even reached an outcome. Progressive paranoia is all the rage these days.

A couple weeks back, Democrat officials dared to question Holy Tony’s eligibility for taxpayer money to run his campaign for Lite-Guv.

Pollina reacted like he’d been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors. His colorful lawyer, John Franco, invoked the outrages of the civil rights moment, Watergate and Ken Starr in the over-the-top argument he made before U.S. District Judge William K. Sessions III.

Invoking memories of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Franco paraphrased the classic line: “What did Mr. Pollina know and when did he know it?”

In court, Mr. Pollina claimed he did not know the full results of the recent Prog Party poll before the campaign finance law’s February 15 deadline.

Out of court, Tony the Phony admits to getting partial results a week before from his party’s chair, Martha Abbott.

Judge Sessions told Tony and the Progs to go home, and come back when the attorney general’s investigation wraps up. Maybe then, he said, they’ll actually have something to complain about.

Believe it or not, Pollina called getting his case thrown out of court a “victory.” It was like watching a politician and party unravel. What’s that old Vietnam War saying — we had to burn down the village to save it?

Even the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Pollina’s former employer and the Vatican of campaign finance reform, is criticizing his latest move.

Executive Director Paul Burns told Seven Days VPIRG is contemplating filing a legal brief opposing Tony the Phony’s contention that both the law’s February 15 deadline and its limit on party contributions are unconstitutional.

VPIRG and Pollina are not on the same page on this one. Take away the limit on party contributions and you open the soft money spigot. “The law would have no value at all,” said Pope Paul, if the limit is removed. It’s an “untenable position,” he said, “for those of us who support campaign finance reform.”

Asked what he might say to those who are shocked to see VPIRG criticize Pollina, Burns replied, “This is an opportunity to make it clear that it is the position of the players, rather than the players themselves, that determines whether we offer our support or opposition.”

God bless him.

Fact is, last time out Anthony Pollina was a novelty. He got a mostly free ride from the Vermont press corps. Now the Progressives want to be taken seriously as a major political party in Vermont. Fine.

And when Tony the Prog crosses the line of hypocrisy, he can expect a little payback for all the holier-than-thou rhetoric he’s been spewing for years.

Welcome to the Big Leagues, kid.

The Clavelle Ticket? — In Vermont this year, there’s a Democrat ticket, a Republican ticket, a Progressive ticket — sort of — and a Clavelle ticket?

Burlington’s Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle is emerging as quite the Big Dog on the state’s political scene. Two weeks ago he was master of ceremonies at Pollina’s campaign kick-off.

Last week he became the first Big Dog to endorse Democrat Doug Racine for governor. Mayor Moonie is also a Racine campaign advisor and, in that role, he advised Pollina not to run for governor this year.

Hey, when Mayor Moonie talks, people listen.

Other Horses — The Lite-Guv race this year promises to be more interesting than the headliner. Republican Brian Dubie is giving it another try. Last time, our favorite Dubie Brother did not exactly come off as the sharpest pencil in the box when it came to grasping state policies and programs. This time he should be better prepared.

Plus, we’re hearing Mr. Dubie is considering a master stroke — going the public financing route. The Democrat in the race, State Sen. Peter Shumlin, won’t be going there. And Tony the Prog may well have already lost his eligibility.

That would leave the Dubie Brother looking like Mr. Clean.


Congressman Meub? — Republican lawyer and lord of the manor Bill Meub wants to be Vermont’s congressman. Major uphill fight. First he has to defeat Karen Kerin in the September GOP primary. If successful, Meub will face the six-term incumbent, a living legend by the name of Bernie Sanders.

Mr. Sanders won almost 70 percent of the vote in 2000 — his biggest landslide so far. The left-wing socialist appears to have the seat for life. Take what happened at the Lake Champlain Chamber’s legislative breakfast Monday.

At the start, the county’s legislators stood up one by one around the ballroom to introduce themselves. Meub, up from Rutland, jumped up, too.

“I’m Bill Meub,” he said to the 250 local business leaders, “and I’m running against Bernie Sanders.”

Once upon a time, that would have sparked applause, if not a spontaneous standing ovation.

Not anymore. Not one hand clapped.

Welcome to Bernie Country!

A Hard Look at Ruth? — The Nielsen ratings from the February sweeps are out. That means the first numbers are in on WVNY-TV’s daring news experiment.

As everyone knows, Ch. 22 signed up former two-time Republican gubernatorial loser Ruth Dwyer as a born-again investigative reporter.

The envelope, please!

Oh, dear. Not good. In the Burlington/Plattsburgh Metro market, Ruth’s station received its customary 2 percent share of the Monday-Friday Six O’Clock News audience. Pitiful.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of viewers were split between Hearst-Argyle’s WPTZ (43 percent share) and locally owned WCAX (27 percent share).

Ch. 5, an NBC affiliate, handily won the 11 O’Clock Metro race with a 36 percent audience share. Ch. 3, a CBS affiliate, scored just a 14 share, and Ch. 22, an ABC affiliate, brought up the rear with a measly 3 percent share.

In the larger Designated Market Area (DMA), which includes all of Vermont except for the two “Banana Belt” counties of Windham and Bennington, Ch. 3 won the Six O’Clock News gold medal. (The DMA also includes two northern New Hampshire counties and New York’s Franklin County.)

“Vermont’s Own” Marselis Parsons, Sera Congi, Sharon Meyer and J.J. Cioffi (28 share) beat the “Champlain Channel’s” Stephanie Gorin, Thom Hallock, Tom Messner and Mark Sudol (22 share). Eric Greene & Co. attracted the usual 2 percent share to Ch. 22.

At 11 O’Clock in the DMA, Ch. 5 got the gold (22 share). Ch. 3 the silver (14 share) and Ruthie’s Ch. 22 got the bronze (2 share).

The folks at WPTZ are happy to point out that if you add on the audience from sister-station WNNE in White River Junction, their margin of victory increases.

Needless to say, Ch. 5 benefited from NBC’s improved Winter Olympic coverage. And while they’ve long won the Metro ratings, Ch. 5 has yet to knock off Ch. 3 statewide.

What does it all mean?

Well, it means Ch. 22 Station Manager Larry Delia’s bold, out-of-the-box experiment has a long way to go. We wish him well.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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