ST. ALBANS, Vermont — Vermont’s Catholic bishop is holding town hall meetings at churches throughout the state this month in an effort to increase transparency amid mounting pressure on the church to respond to sexual abuse claims around the country.
Bishop Christopher Coyne says the goal is to listen to people and to discuss how to regain trust among parishioners when attendance is declining.
“As many people that are leaving, it is going to take even longer to get them back,” Coyne said at the first meeting at St. Mary’s Church in St. Albans on Thursday.
The other meetings are planned on Jan. 22 at Holy Family Church in Essex Junction; Jan 23 at St. Theresa’s Church in Orleans; Jan. 28 at Sacred Heart Church in Bennington; Jan 29 at Christ the King Church in Rutland; and Jan. 31 at St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington.
The Catholic Diocese of Burlington announced in October that it would create a committee to look into allegations of abuse of minors involved with the church and release a list of priests accused of sexually abusing children. The announcement came as authorities were investigating resurfaced allegations of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the now-shuttered St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington more than 40 years ago.
Some 52 priests were accused of sexually assaulting minors in Vermont, WCAX-TV reported. There has not been an accusation of sexual abuse by a priest in Vermont in 16 years, Coyne said.
“I think that by having a conversation with people and someone says, ‘I’m concerned that my grandchildren aren’t safe in the church,’ I can say to them, look, the church right now is probably one of the safest organizations for families and children in the United States,” he said.