Catholic Church Settles Sex Abuse Suit

Channel 3 News Burlington/April 6, 2004

Burlington, Vermont -- Robert Douglas of Burlington says he was molested by Alfred Willis when the priest was serving at St. Ann's Church in Milton in 1979, shortly after the priest had been assigned to the parish by Bishop John Marshall.

The church has settled with Douglas for $150,000, and a unique concession , the church has detailed its dealings with Father Willis in a written statement.

Church files acknowledge previous allegations against Willis, saying ...

"In February 1978, allegations arose that Willis had been sexually involved with boys while at St. Anthony's Parish."

"Bishop Marshall confronted Willis about these allegations ... and directed that Willis see a psychiatrist and visit with the parents of the boys to explain his behavior and lack of ill intent."

The parents of the boys did not pursue the matter further. Then ...

"In June of 1979, Bishop Marshall transferred Willis to St. Ann's Parish in Milton. The Bishop did not advise the pastor at St. Ann's Parish of the prior incidents involving Willis."

It was then, at St. Ann's where the alleged abuse against Douglas took place.

The account comes directly from diocesan records, and officials there acknowledge there was a breakdown in oversight of the priest.

"This is information that came out later, and yes, that's accurate there were earlier allegations that we were informed of as the whole thing unfolded and that was part of the case against the diocese," says Father Wendall Searles, the Burlington Diocese Vickar General.

After the alleged molestation of Douglas, the diocese did act, convicting him before a panel of his peers.

"The church took very decisive action in this particular case and the priest involved was dismissed from ministry and has not since served as a priest and will not be able to," says Searles.

Douglas and his attorney did not want to talk on camera, but in a statement, he said he took the unusual step of asking that details be released because he wanted the public to know what he says the diocese did to enable Alfred Willis to abuse him.

Douglas filed suit last April in wake of the national Catholic Church sex scandal. He said all of the publicity back painful memories.

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