Between 1963 and 1989, six priests identified by the Catholic Church as having credible accusations of abuse against them served in some capacity at Christ the King Church.
A report issued Thursday by the Diocese of Burlington listed 39 priests against whom credible allegations had been made during their time in Vermont, and one against whom credible allegations had been made outside the state. Twenty of the 39 spent time in at least one Rutland County parish. Several were at more than one as they moved from church to church, and some churches had priests from the list one after another. The tenures ranged from the late 1930s to the early years of this century, though most are clustered around the 1970s.
More of them were stationed at Christ the King than any other church in Rutland County, starting with Donal Ward in 1963 and followed by William Gallagher from 1966-70.
“I was at Christ the King then, and I was an altar boy,” Mayor David Allaire said. “That was the extent of my involvement with Father Gallagher.”
Allaire said he saw news of the report’s release on social media and looked through it, noting names with Rutland connections.
“I think a lot of it is a surprise and, frankly, disturbing,” he said.
Allaire said he could not recall any rumors about Gallagher, and he was unaware of any misdeeds by most of the other named priests who passed through Christ the King — James Beauregard (1975-76), Conrad Bessette (1976-83) or Stephen Nichols (1986-89). The sole exception, he said, was Edward Paquette, who was at Christ the King from 1972 to 1974 and was later named in civil lawsuits as having molested children in numerous locations, including Rutland.
“I had read some things about him later,” Allaire said of Paquette. “The rest of these people, these priests — a lot of this is totally a surprise and very sad. ... I don’t have any personal knowledge of any of this except what I’ve read about all of this, and I feel sad about the victims.”
Beauregard came to Christ the King not long after a stint at Immaculate Heart of Mary, and left for St. Anne in Middletown Springs, where he served until 1985. He was the last in series of four priests from the list in that small-town parish, starting with Edward Foster (1963-67) and then Benjamin Wysolmerski (1971-77) followed by Richard Thompson (1977-79).
“These guys were all over the place,” said state Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland, a member of Christ the King since his baptism. “They got transferred from one place to the next. ... If they got wind of somebody doing something, they whisked him away. It’s really disgusting.”
Cupoli said he never had any whiff of any wrongdoing.
“This stuff was so secret,” he said. “None of us every heard of it. ... Never a word.”
Wysolmerski went from Middletown Springs to Pittsford’s St. Alphonsus, which also hosted a total of four priests from the list — including two at the same time when Wysolmerski overlapped with Donald Bean in 1979. Wyslomerski was succeeded in 1987 by James McShane, who then left in 1992 and then surfaced in Rutland at Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1998.
“Every person on the list, other than Paquette, who was very well publicized, was kind of a surprise,” said Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, a member of St. Alphonsus. “There were always rumors bout McShane. We knew he was removed from the parish — I knew. There were rumors, but I don’t listen to rumors.”
Though it does not appear on the report, McShane also taught at Mount St. Joseph Academy.
“He ran the student retreats, too,” said James Sabataso, a graduate of MSJ’s class of 2001 who had McShane for 10th-grade theology. “We had him pegged back then. Total creep. ... Before we knew anything, we all used to talk about how he must be one of the bad ones.”
McShane — along with Paquette — was one of the 17 priests over whom the church settled abuse lawsuits in 2006.
“Most of the names of that list were not surprises to us,” said the Rev. Bernard Bourgeois, pastor of Christ the King, who said he had been instructed to refer questions about the investigation to the diocese but was willing to discuss the state of mind of his own congregation. “I think people are sad that the actions happened and angry at the cover-up. I think it will take some time for some healing to take place.”
It appears the church had taken action on some of the priests before the rampant abuse was reported by the Boston Globe in 2002. Some priests had their powers stripped and quickly retired, one on the same day the powers were taken away. While others were suspended, tried unsuccessfully to get back into service and ultimately left. It’s unclear whether the suspensions and revoking of power was in direct response to the allegations of child abuse.
Melanie Sakoda, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called the report “overdue,” noting that the many diocese began making such disclosures after the Spotlight report in 2002, and that Bishop Coyne had been in office since 2015. That said, she was glad the report was out.
“It helps survivors to see their abusers’ names listed,” Sakoda said. “A lot of people thought, when they’re abused they’re the only ones. ... For a lot of people, it helps them begin to heal.”
She said it can also sometimes give families a potential clue into a death by suicide or overdose.
Sakoda questioned the completeness of the report, noting that several priests against whom there were public allegations did not appear in it, and said she would like to have seen a record of when the allegations were received, how they were handled and what was done with the priests in response.
“That is important to understand that had been going on in the church all these years and prevent future cover-ups,” she said. “If the bishop really wants to be transparent, he’d ask the attorney general to do a review of the diocese’s handling of sex crimes. Ideally, the attorney general would go in with search warrants, as they did in Michigan.”
Sakoda urged abuse survivors to come forward and make sure their abusers did not get a chance to hurt anyone else.
Locally, members of the church who doubled as secular community leaders said they were generally satisfied with the steps the church was taking.
“I think they’ve done what they can,” Cupoli said. “There’s so much to this, from what I gather — thousands of pages of stuff they had to go through. I think the fact that they’re coming out with it and putting it out there is enough. I don’t know. ... It’s tough.”
Cupoli said he doubted the Catholic church was the only one with such problems, and wondered what else might come out in the future.
“I think they are trying to redeem themselves in being transparent now — much later in the story,” Allaire said. “The damage is done.”
According to a posting on the diocese website, all but one of the alleged acts took place more than 20 years ago. None of the priests are still active and most are dead.
Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, of the Burlington diocese, said in a statement posted to the Vermont Catholic church website that an independent committee of four men and three women, who don’t work for the church, started meeting in November.
By email on Thursday afternoon, Coyne said he didn’t know why the priests on the list were re-assigned.
“Today, the amount of times a priest may move from assignment to assignment really varies on the needs in our parishes and the skill-set of the priest. For example, we have some priests who have been serving the same parish for more than 15 years and others who have been reassigned two or three times in that same time period,” he said.
The committee reviewed 52 personnel files of clergy members who had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing a minor.
The finished report said a credible allegation was not the equivalent of finding “probable cause” to pursue a charge in criminal court.
“Some faced criminal charges, others were sued in civil court. Some resolved abuse cases before any lawsuit. In other cases, the time to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits has expired. We were not bound by the statute of limitations in making our assessments,” the report said.
From 1950 to the present, about 420 priests have been assigned to Vermont. The committee has not specified how many files were reviewed but the report said more was added to the original 52 as the investigation progressed.
The report released Thursday included a list of 40 priests the committee members had determined had been the subject of at least one credible allegation but doesn’t include the number of allegations against an individual priest or the “location, date or any other information that might help pinpoint a minor victim.”
In a statement, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said Thursday that his office had received a copy of the report and were aware of the priests whose names were listed. The statement said the report was “separate and apart” from the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Task Force.
The Task Force’s mandate includes looking at allegations of abuse to determine if any describe crimes that can be prosecuted and are still within the statutes of limitations
The committee’s report brings attention to what Coyne called “our family secret.”
“We often talk about the church as a family, as a community of faith in which we are brothers and sisters in our love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are supposed to be a people of love, a place of hope and a community of healing. But that is not always the case. This is especially true with the significant number of cases involving the sexual and physical abuse of children by clergy, not just here in Vermont, but in the entire church. These ‘sins of the past’ continue to haunt us,” Coyne wrote.
Coyne promised to heed the stories of people who report sexual abuse by clergy.
“They need to hear over and over again that we believe them. They also need to know that we are doing everything we humanly can to make sure this does not happen again,” Coyne wrote.
The report encourages any victim involved in an incident that hasn’t been investigated contact Vermont State Police, the Vermont attorney general’s office or the Vermont Department for Children and Families to speak with state investigators or the Burlington diocese’s Office of Safe Environment Programs or victim assistance coordinator to speak with someone from the church.
“The review committee also knows some victims did not come forward for whatever reason, including lack of faith in the Catholic Church or in the Vermont criminal justice system. It is our hope those victims may find strength now to speak,” the report said.
The committee urged any victims of these priests to reach out to family and friends.
It also provided a list of resources victims can contact.
Vermont State Police can be reached toll-free at 888-984-8626 or https://vsp.vermont.gov. The Department for Children and Families toll-free at 800-649-5285 or dcf.vermont.gov/prevention/stepup/resources. The Vermont attorney general’s office at 802-828-3171 or ago.vermont.gov. The Office of Save Environment Programs at the Diocese of Burlington at 802-658-6110, ext. 1219. Call the Victim Assistance Coordinator at the diocese at 802-855-3016 or www.vermontcatholic.org.