Category Archives: child sex abuse scandal

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.

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Bishop Coyne: “It’s gonna take us a long time”

Well, my substitute hosting duties on The Mark Johnson Show are over for this round. On my last day, Monday, came the interview I’d most been looking forward to*: The Most Rev. Christopher Coyne, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

*And that’s saying something; I had a lot of great guests, and I thank them all.

When Bishop Coyne was installed in January 2014, much was written about his career in the Church, including his years as chief spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese. But little scrutiny was given to that period, which was a crucial one in the history of the modern American Church.

The Archdiocesan spokesman in 2002, carefully choosing his words.

The Archdiocesan spokesman in 2002, carefully choosing his words.

He was the front man for Bernard Cardinal Law during the depths of the child sex abuse scandal that rocked the Archdiocese to its core. It ultimately forced Cardinal Law, one of the most powerful Churchmen in America, to scurry off to a well-appointed hidey-hole in the Vatican, where he still resides.

There were many things I wanted to ask the Bishop. But, in light of the continuing scandals in the Church, the one thing I most wanted to ask about was whether the Church has changed itself, improved, reformed — and how he reflects back on his time defending the seemingly indefensible.

I give him full credit. He answered with honesty and humility. Sure, he was a bit defensive about the institution to which he has devoted his life; but he admitted that the Church had dug its own moral cesspit, that it had no one to blame but itself, and that restoring the compromised moral authority of the Church will take a lot of hard work and a very long time.

It was much more than I expected from a Church lifer. And yeah, I believe he was being sincere.

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