Burlington, Vermont -- June 22, 2007
There was more testimony Friday indicating Vermont's Roman Catholic Diocese had a longtime policy of protecting pedophile priests from prosecution and protecting itself from lawsuits.
The testimony came from a retired priest who worked with four bishops on church policy including new policies aimed at preventing priest sex abuse.
The million-dollar lawsuit was brought by a man who claims the diocese failed to protect him from a pedophile priest thirty years ago. Friday the plaintiff wept as the details of the incident were read aloud in court.
James Turner wept uncontrollably as he relived the alleged sexual assault at the hands of a Vermont priest 30 years ago. The reverend Wendell Searles read the letter of complaint from the plaintiff.
"As far as I know no one in the room saw what Willis did to me that night," said Father Searles reading the letter during his testimony. Searles, a former Vicar General of the Diocese, received Turner's letter of complaint in 2002, 25 years after Turner claims he was sexually assaulted by former priest Alfred Willis during a family outing.
"I remember feeling very dirty all the next day," the letter continued.
During his testimony, Father Searles acknowledged that for decades the Diocese did not notify police when they received complaints about pedophile priests. Searles testified that the Diocese also concealed the predators' personnel records.
"Alfred Willis was a man whom the files of the Diocese sitting in front of you demonstrated had molested boys in the numbers that had been demonstrated. Nonetheless, this Diocese wanted to protect his privacy. Is that right, sir?," asked Jerry O'Neill, Turner's lawyer.
"I don't know how to answer that,"answered Rev. Searles.
"Yes or no," responded O'Neill.
Father Searles paused for a few seconds and finally answered, "Yes, we wanted to protect his privacy."
Later in his testimony Searles angrily denied the church tried to sweep everything under the rug.
There was also testimony Friday from University of Vermont Economics Professor Arthur Woolf. He was hired by Turner's lawyers to determine the estimated value of all Diocese property in Vermont. Woolf testified he could not obtain all the records required to make a perfect determination , but, using the limited records he obtained he estimated total Diocese assets at between $270 and $500 million. However, on cross examination Diocese lawyers challenged Woolf's estimate. He acknowledge he had not determined if the "Catholic church properties" were owned by the Diocese.
On Monday the plaintiff, James Turner is scheduled to testify. The church will try to show that he is just greedy. He's already had an out of court settlement with former priest Alfred Willis.
The church says he is now just trying to get more money out of the Burlington Diocese.
Brian Joyce - WCAX News