Catholic Church releases list of suspected priests

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BRATTLEBORO — On Thursday afternoon, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne released the names of 40 priests who served in Vermont and were credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor or vulnerable individual since 1950. Of those 40, a handful served in Windham and Bennington counties.

"While there has been significant action by the Church here in Vermont and in the United States to address the issue of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and the cover-up of those crimes by those in authority, the whole sordid tale of what happened in decades leading up to the U.S. bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has not been fully aired. That is why I have asked that this report be compiled and published," stated Coyne in a press release.

The list was compiled by an independent, volunteer committee of four lay men and three lay women assembled in November 2018; one is a victim of clergy abuse and one is a non-Catholic.

The committee considered complaints from 1950 to the present, just as other Dioceses have done, and was not bound by the statute of limitations in making assessments. During that time, there have been some 420 priests assigned in the Diocese of Burlington. The committee began with 52 personnel files that diocesan officials had identified as having some kind of claim made against a specific priest. As the committee proceeded, more files were identified.

The committee defined a "credible" allegation as one that met one or more of the following thresholds: natural, plausible and probable; corroborated with other evidence or another source; or acknowledged/admitted to by the accused. The committee members did not interview victims or witnesses, deeming that as outside their scope.

Of the 40 priests believed to have been credibly accused, some faced criminal charges, others were sued in civil court. Some resolved abuse cases before any lawsuit. In other cases, the time to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits had expired.

Based on the full files committee members have seen, reviewed and discussed, they believe they have included all cases that they are aware of at this time. "We also know that information about old claims and also new allegations may come forward with the release of our independent report," said committee member Mike Donoghue. "We are afraid the committee's work will never be complete."

Committee members have said they expect some new cases to be reported as some silent victims will now find strength to come forward. A few committee members have agreed to continue on during the transition to a new committee to try to ensure their standards are understood and hopefully maintained.

ACCUSED PRIESTS

- Robert J. Baffa, born in 1937 and ordained in North Bennington in 1966, served for 36 years and was assigned to St. John the Baptist in North Bennington as Pastor from 1993-2002. He retired in 2002 and died in 2013.

- Donald A. Bean was born in 1934 and ordained in 1963. He served in Vermont for 24 years, including as the administrator in St. Jerome in East Dorset in 1975. He retired in 1994 and died in 2005.

- James E. Beauregard was born in 1941 and was ordained in 1970. He served in Vermont for 29 years, including as the pastor at St. Joachim in Readsboro from 1994 to 1999. He retired in 2002 and died in 2015.

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- Paul M. Bresnahan, born in 1928 and ordained in 1954, served in Vermont for 48 years. His assignments included as assistant at Sacred Heart in Bennington and assistant principal at Bennington Catholic High School from 1956 to 1957. He retired in 2002 and died in 2003.

- John F. Eastman, born in 1914 and ordained in 1946, served in Vermont for seven years, including as an assistant at St. Michael in Brattleboro from 1950 to 1951, and an assistant at St. Francis de Sales in Bennington from 1952 to 1953. Though he was suspended in 1953, he was sent to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in Jemez Springs, N.M., in 1953 and relocated to the Diocese of Monterrey-Fresno, Calif., in 1955, where he remained until 1967. In 1989, he applied for re-instatement in Vermont, but was denied. According to the report, he is presumed dead.

- John B. "Jack" Kenney was born in 1927 and ordained in 1957. He served in Vermont for 12 years, including as the assistant at St. Charles in Bellows Falls from 1957 to 1962. He retired in 1997 and is still living.

- James J. McShane Jr., who was born in 1940 and ordained in 1966, served in Vermont for 36 years, including as the Chaplain for both the Boy Scouts from 1967 to 1993 and Vermont Army National Guard from 1969 to 1995. His assignments included pastor at St. Charles in Bellows Falls from 1992 to 1998. His priestly faculties were revoked in 2002. He is still living.

- Brian E. Mead was born in 1942 and was ordained in 1969. He served in Vermont for 32 years, with an assignment as pastor at St. Charles in Bellows Falls from 1998 to 2002. He had his priestly faculties revoked in 2004 and is still living.

- Walter D. Miller was born in 1934 and was ordained in 1961. He served in Vermont for 35 years, including as the assistant at St. Charles in Bellows Falls from 1962 to 1966. He had his priestly faculties revoked in 2005 and died in 2014.

- Daniel F. Roberts, who was born in 1909 and ordained in 1945, served in Vermont for 34 years. His assignments included an assistant position at St. Michael in Brattleboro from 1951 to 1956. He retired in 1980 and died in 1981.

- Richard E. Thompson was born in 1941 and was ordained in 1968. He served in Vermont for 16 years, including as pastor at St. Jerome in East Dorset from 1975 to 1977, and as an assistant at St. Michael in Brattleboro from 1982 to 1984. He was suspended in 1984 and died in 2006.

- Benjamin D. Wysolmerski was born in 1926 and was ordained in 1950, serving in Vermont for 43 years. His assignments included as an assistant at Sacred Heart in Bellows Falls from 1950 to 1956, as an assistant at St. Francis de Sales in Bennington in 1971 and as pastor at St. Charles in Bellows Falls from 1987 to 1993. He had his priestly faculties revoked in 1993 and he died in 1994.

If you have been abused or if you suspect a minor or vulnerable person has been abused, contact the proper authorities immediately, including local law enforcement and the Diocese's Victim Assistance Line at 866-485-2488.

The committee's report has been published without any edits or changes; it can be viewed at vermontcatholic.org/promise.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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