Last week, for the first time, a now-deceased Vermont priest was identified in a civil settlement as a possible child molester. That revelation is prompting a support group to prod the state's Catholic bishop to release names of other accused clerics and aggressively seek out their victims.
"For more than a decade, bishops have been required, by their own national policy, to be open and transparent' about child sex crimes,” said David Clohessy, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Yet for months, perhaps years, Vermont church officials kept secret about apparently credible allegations of child sex abuse against Fr. Joseph Dussault. Parents and the public only know about these accusations because a victim was smart and strong enough to file a suit and persevere to a settlement.”
Eleven civil lawsuits, including one against Fr. Dussault, were resolved on Jan. 9 as one of the cases was about to go to trial.
Now, SNAP is urging Catholic officials in Vermont to use “all the resources available” in order to reach out to others who were injured by Fr. Dussault and other clerics and to be more forthcoming about them.
“It’s time for church officials to honor their promises and ‘come clean’ now about every other predators they are protecting and have protected,” said Clohessy. “The bishop should publicly post these names, - on the diocesan website and in parish bulletins - and he should aggressively seek out victims in every Vermont parish.”
According to news reports, the statute of limitations on cases involving the Diocese of Burlington is about to run out, which would prevent future sex abuse cases from being filed. SNAP is concerned that this impending deadline will provide an incentive for church officials to stay silent in order to avoid more lawsuits.
“We’re hoping that these officials will care more about protecting their parishioners than they care about protecting these predators,” said Clohessy. “Rather than stay silent and hope this deadline passes, Catholic employees should work hard in order to find others who may have been hurt and help them heal.”
Fr. Dussault worked at St. Joseph’s in Burlington (1934-1941), St. Thomas in Underhill (1941-1944), St. Sylvester in Graniteville (1944-1960), St. Edwards in Derby Line (1960- 19670 and St. Mary’s in Newport 1967- 1978.
The diocese is represented by attorney Thomas McCormick (802-864-3494). The victims are represented by attorney Jerry O’Neill (firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-865-4700).