The flip side of a bishop’s obituary

Kenneth Angell, the former bishop of the diocese of Burlington, has died. The Burlington Free Press marked the occasion with a story that completely failed to mention  his “see no evil, hear no evil, maybe there’ll be no evil” approach to the Roman Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal.

But hey, I’ll be happy to fill in the blanks.

Angell was stationed in Burlington from 1992 to 2005. Before that, he served for 18 years as the bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, one of the many epicenters of priestly criminality and hierarchical complicity.

A total of 36 lawsuits were filed by alleged victims of clergy sex abuse in the Diocese. They were , eight years after Angell had moved on to Burlington, for $13.5 million. A couple examples of Angell’s approach to victims’ complaints:

Bishop Angell testified in a 1990 lawsuit that he did not take seriously allegations – made by both parishioners and assistant priests – that the Rev. William O’Connell was molesting boys. The priest was convicted, served a short sentence, moved to New Jersey, committed more crimes and died in prison. In another Rhode Island case, Bishop Angell in 1989 promised to “take care of it” when the Rev. Normand Demers was accused of misconduct with boys while working at a Haitian orphanage, according to a former orphanage staffer. The priest was brought back to work in the Providence diocese.

“Did not take seriously,” indeed. This is exactly the kind of wishful thinking that turned a handful of bad apples into a worldwide scandal that left thousands of victims emotionally scarred, and undermined the moral authority of the Church.

At the same time, Angell was a man on fire when his own definition of morality came under threat.

Here in Vermont, he was a leading figure in the fight against civil unions in 2000. He urged state lawmakers to reject the Vermont Supreme Court’s order that legal status be granted to same-sex couples:

Do not let the court or anybody else push you around. You have no duty, moral or constitutional, to weaken the institution of marriage. … This is the United States of America. We are not ruled by kings, whether on a throne or in the courtroom.

Fortunately, we’re not ruled by celibates in funny hats either.

Angell lost that battle for purity, even as he continued his efforts to sweep scandal under the rug.  The Diocese resorted to delaying tactics to rebuff official efforts to investigate allegations of abuse. He allowed six accused priests to remain in active ministry for a time, before ultimately turning over their files to the Attorney General’s office and suspending the six. (None were ever criminally charged because the statute of limitations had expired on almost all the allegations. Score one for the Church’s delaying tactics.)

At a 2005 press conference announcing his retirement, Angell seemed remarkably obtuse about the whole scandal.

“People have been so shocked by all of this and it’s a wonderful compliment to us really, in the sense that they expect so much more of us than anyone else and we shouldn’t fail them,” Angell said.

A compliment.


The fact that people are shocked by priests abusing children IS A COMPLIMENT????????? 

Yeah, somehow we expect an institution that claims to be God’s representative on Earth  to be responsible for keeping its own house in order. How unreasonable can we be?

Please, Your Grace, tell us more.

“It’s been very difficult and difficult for these priests too (who) have been in trouble.

“The victims first and foremost have my concern. After that I think of the priests how because of one, one little lapse or something, something terrible happened. I can’t help but feel sorry for them. I decry what they did.”

Oh, those poor, poor priests. Guilty of “one little lapse or something.”

Er, no.

These Men of God for whom Angell felt such sympathy abused dozens of children, repeatedly, over decades. Angell and his compatriots turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to complaints, shuffled offending priests from one assignment to another whenever the stench got too bad, and did all they could to obstruct justice.

Angell offered lip service to the victims, but you can tell where his heart was: with his fellow celibates and the institution he served.

May you rest in peace, Bishop Angell. But not until all the victims achieve the peace your church has denied them all their lives.







3 thoughts on “The flip side of a bishop’s obituary

  1. David Ellenbogen

    Don’t forget his disdain for women becoming priests. When St. Michael’s College was ready to host the inauguration (or whatever the proper word is) of the first female Episcopalian priest, Angell nixed that, saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to become priests. As a result, the ceremony took place in the Flynn theater rather than the St Mike’s chapel (one of the largest in the state).


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