Vermont’s top Roman Catholic clergyman has written to parishioners around the state, apologizing to the victim in a priest sex abuse case but saying the church will appeal last week’s $8.7 million verdict against the Diocese of Burlington.
“I first wish to express my deep regret for the hurt endured by the plaintiff and on behalf of the Diocese I sincerely apologize to him that one chosen to be God’s servant betrayed a sacred trust and so wounded him and other victims of abuse,” Bishop Salvatore Matano wrote in a letter distributed at weekend Masses.
In a letter dated last Friday, the same day a judge put a lien of more than $10 million on property including the diocesan headquarters overlooking Lake Champlain in Burlington, Matano expressed concern about the ability to continue programs in their current form.
“As we pursue an effective solution, diocesan resources will be analyzed with the hope that needed ministries will continue uninterrupted and parishes remain unaffected by a burden that does not belong to them,” he wrote.
The letter and the lien came three days after a Chittenden County Superior Court jury ordered the diocese to pay a now 40-year-old Burlington native $950,000 in compensatory damages and $7.75 million in punitive damages for between 40 and 100 instances of sexual fondling by former priest Edward Paquette in the 1970s.
Testimony and court documents showed that the diocese knew Paquette had a history of molesting boys from the time he was hired in 1972, and that it allowed him to serve parishes in Rutland, Burlington and Montpelier in the following years despite continued reports of such abuse.
Matano’s letter also described efforts the diocese has made in recent years to implement new programs designed to ensure children are protected from such abuse in the future.
“We seek to cooperate fully with law enforcement or other social service agencies whenever incidents of this nature might arise in any circumstances brought to our attention,” he wrote. “These efforts hopefully are making the Diocese of Burlington one of today’s leaders among those dedicated to creating a safe environment for our children.”
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