January 09, 2005

Vt. diocese faces historic changes

Times Argus

January 9, 2005

By KEVIN O'CONNOR Staff Writer

How do you staff 130 parishes with 55 priests, settle yet another round of clergy misconduct lawsuits and replace a retiring bishop?

For Vermont's 148,000 Catholics, the new year promises historic challenges and change.

Members of the state's largest religious group will start work Saturday on their chief concern when as many as 300 priests and parishioners meet privately to discuss how to consolidate churches to deal with a clergy shortage.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Vermont projects the number of priests will drop by half in 10 years, leaving about 55 clergymen to minister to more than twice as many parishes. As a result, Bishop Kenneth Angell is inviting all priests, deacons and two lay representatives from each local church to suggest possible solutions at a by-invitation-only meeting at St. Monica School in Barre.

The session will be closed to the press and public, as will subsequent meetings of a smaller planning advisory committee. As a result, most Vermonters won't know the outcome until the bishop shapes the recommendations into a consolidation plan this spring just before he'll submit his resignation on his 75th birthday, Aug. 3, as required by church law. ...

Angell has served as Vermont Catholic bishop since November 1992. In his 13 years he has led church opposition to abortion and same-sex civil unions. His brother, "Frasier" sitcom creator David Angell, and sister-in-law died in one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly afterward, the diocese faced a string of lawsuits charging priests with child sexual abuse.

The diocese, having spent almost $400,000 to settle such cases in the past two years, hoped the scandal was over. But it currently faces at least a half dozen new lawsuits.

Lawyer Jerome O'Neill of Burlington sparked the diocese to settle one case for $150,000 the largest such payment in state history and another lawsuit for $120,000. He since has filed six more cases in Chittenden Superior Court against four one-time Vermont priests, including the Rev. Edward Paquette, the Rev. George Paulin and the Rev. Alfred Willis. All the new cases are awaiting court hearings.

Posted by kshaw at January 9, 2005 08:00 AM