Catholic Diocese of Burlington releases names of priests in church investigation

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A 10-month investigation into potential pedophile priests is done. The Catholic Diocese of Burlington released its report Thursday morning. But on Wednesday, our Darren Perron obtained details of that report, revealing decades of abuse by 40 priests.

"I'm 66 years old... This individual had an elevated place in my family's life. So, no, I never told my parents," John Mahoney said.

He didn't tell them that he was repeatedly abused by a priest starting in eighth grade. Mahoney kept the secret-- until now.

"I've been wanting this for a long time," he said. "There may be some small consolation that the world knows this person's name."

That name is Father Edward Foster. The former Burlington priest is one of 40 accused of child sexual abuse in a new report commissioned by the Catholic Diocese and Bishop Christopher Coyne.

"We needed to do this," Bishop Coyne said. "We needed to get the family secrets completely out there."

The bishop created a seven-member committee made up of laypeople to pore over thousands of documents, the files of more than 50 potential pedophile priests.

"If there was one substantiated and credible allegation against the priest, it was enough for his name to be placed on the list," Coyne said.

But in many cases, there were multiple allegations. Some families were paid to keep quiet and priests were moved from parish to parish.

Reporter Darren Perron: Did the church fail these children?
Bishop Christopher Coyne: Oh, definitely. We failed these children. We failed the children, the teenagers, the families. These actions were criminal. They were sinful. They were immoral. They weren't dealt with well. There are no excuses for what we did.

The committee's report on the abuse took about 10 months to complete.

"The files, some of them were 1,000 pages or more. We wanted to make sure we got it right," Mike Donoghue said.

Donoghue, a journalist, is on the committee.

"We expect that there will be some people coming forward," he said.

Donoghue expects more allegations once the list of priests is published and he says the committee is still reviewing some files, so more names could be added to the 40.

"It's a sad number," the bishop said. "It's an awful number."

But Coyne points out all but one of the allegations happened before 2000. The one since is against former priest Stephen Nichols.

The bishop says protocols like background checks, ongoing training to spot abuse and abusers, audits, and mandatory reporting to police are helping to protect Vermont kids now.

"There is absolutely no priest working in the Diocese of Burlington that places children at risk," Coyne said.

Darren Perron: Did it put more kids at risk by not releasing this information sooner?
Bishop Christopher Coyne: I want to put that concern to rest. None of these people have been in ministry since 2000 on.

"It took way too long," attorney Jerry O'Neill said.

For about 20 years, O'Neill has represented more than 50 abuse victims suing the church, which has now paid out $31.5 million. Six cases are still pending.

O'Neill says he tried during settlement proceedings to get the diocese to release the files for 16 years. He says not doing so still put kids at risk outside the church.

"If they had released the files sooner, some of these perpetrators clearly could have been molesting in the meantime. Not within the church, but outside the church, they're still perpetrators," O'Neill said. "So many of the survivors are furious for how long it's taken the church and this diocese to identify the people who were the molesters."

Mahoney's abuser, Father Foster, died in 2000. Mahoney just wishes he was still around to see his name on the list.

"It's almost a little surreal it's finally happening," he said. "I am looking to the psychic energy I've put in this to putting that behind me."

Mahoney joined the committee looking into the priest files.

The diocese released the report with the list of names Thursday morning.

The bishop admits revealing the list of priests could open the diocese up to even more lawsuits, but he says the church can no longer cover up the sins of its past.