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Vt. Catholic Church Shifts Assets Into Trusts, Shields Funds From Child Sex Abuse Settlements

Bishop Coyne at a June 2018 ordination ceremony at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.
Jillian Alderman
Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Courtesy
Bishop Coyne estimated in an interview with "Vermont Edition" in August of this year that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington would spend approximately 1 million dollars in settlements.

The Catholic Church in Vermont sheltered an estimated $500 million in assets more than a decade ago to shield its property from a torrent of new lawsuits and allegations of sexual abuse by priests, new reporting from VT Digger shows. And amid new revelations of abuse and new lawsuits, those trusts could be challenged in future settlements.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington in August released the names of 40 priests accused of sexually abusing children in Vermont since 1950. The names, compiled into a report by an independent citizen panel appointed by Bishop Christopher Coyne, were "one small step that might offer healing" to victims of the Vermont Catholic Church's seven-decade long history of child sex abuse.

Coyne took over as bishop after then-Bishop Salvatore Mantano, who headed the church from 2005 to 2013, was named as bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y.

This month, VT Digger reporter Kevin O’Connor published a new story showing how, starting in the spring of 2006, the Catholic Church hid its Vermont assets in more than 100 private trusts across the state, just as a wave of settlements related to child sex abuse and church cover-ups of that abuse were breaking.

O'Connor discusses his reporting about how this so-called “book keeping move” could have big implications for five new lawsuits against the church in Vermont, and potentially shield church assets from any future settlements, and possible legal challenges to the church's use of the trusts.

Broadcast live on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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