Vermont Diocese Found Lacking in Anti-Abuse Audit

By | April 13, 2007

Vermont’s Catholic Diocese has met most of the standards set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent sexual abuse by priests, but came up short in training volunteers, an audit has found.

Vermont and the Cincinnati diocese were the only two in the country where the training shortfall was reported. Four dioceses refused to participate in the audit by the Gavin Group, based in Winthrop, Mass., said its president, William Gavin.

It was the second year in a row the Vermont diocese was found not to have met the standard by training all volunteers who work with children to guard against abuse. Diocesan officials said in March of 2006 they would have the work done by June 30.

Kevin Scully, a former Burlington police chief who now heads safe environment programs for the diocese, said the training was a work in progress. He pointed to a national Web site on the issue, Virtus.org, noting that it lists several upcoming training sessions in the Vermont diocese. Scully said he is trying to schedule several more.

“This is basically a one-person office that seeks to provide support and direction to a whole geographic diocese — all of Vermont,” Scully said. “To get the program out and operating takes a little longer than in some of our sister dioceses, where they have maybe 10 people working on it.”

Gavin said in a telephone interview that he believed both the Vermont and Cincinnati dioceses were making good-faith efforts to achieve the standard.

“I don’t have a sense of why it didn’t happen,” said Gavin, a former high-ranking official with the FBI. “I know they’ve made significant progress.”

The training program calls on volunteers to attend a three-hour meeting and then take a course on the Virtus.org web site, Scully said. He said there have been 30 of the meetings to date, and that the goal of training all 1,016 volunteers who work with children in the Vermont Diocese should be completed by the middle of this year.

One national advocate for victims of sexual abuse said she was not impressed with the Vermont diocese’s efforts. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ policy on sexual abuse “was adopted five years ago, so for Vermont’s bishop to be not in compliance even now is worrisome,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for St. Louis-based SNAP — Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests. “There’s really no excuse for foot-dragging on this.”

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