The Diocese of Burlington will cooperate fully with authorities looking into allegations of abuse at the St. Joseph’s Orphanage, Bishop Christopher Coyne said Sunday, commenting on an extensive BuzzFeed News investigation into the now-shuttered Vermont institution.
“The only way we can get to the truth of these matters is to be cooperative,” Coyne said at a Sunday Mass, according to the Burlington Free Press.
“I pledge that the Diocese of Burlington will be forthcoming with anything that can be helpful in resolving the allegations about these matters,” he said.
Years in the making, an investigative report published by BuzzFeed News in August revealed how the Catholic Church allegedly treated children at its St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Vermont. The stories include recollections of children being made to kneel or stand for extended periods of time, or being forced to eat their own vomit. Other stories include allegations of sexual abuse and even death.
“The scandals and the ghosts of what happened there still haunt us,” Coyne said of the orphanage, which closed in 1974.
On Friday, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said his office will open an investigation into abuse within Vermont’s Catholic Church, in addition to probing allegations at St. Joseph’s Orphanage. The formation of a joint task force is expected to be announced Monday.
“I’ve driven by that place thousands of times,” Donovan said, the Burlington Free Press reported. “I went to Burlington High School a couple hundred yards away. This was a well-kept secret. I think we can say unequivocally that abuse occurred there.”
In extensive remarks at a Sunday Mass, Bishop Coyne told parishioners that he “welcomed” the formation of the task force, and committed to helping the state’s investigation.
“The fact that those events happened over 50 years ago does not lessen the horror and the grief that we all feel at the thought of innocent and vulnerable children suffering abuse at the hands of those that should have cared for and protected them,” Coyne said.
He then made a plea to the survivors of abuse at St. Joseph’s: “I need to hear their stories, to apologize, to offer any help I can, and to listen to what they feel needs to be done to make sure as much as humanly possible, that this never happens again.”