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Rutland Priest Facing Sex Accusations Steps Down

Jan 28, 2003 | AP

A Roman Catholic priest charged with child sexual abuse is stepping down as pastor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

The Rev. James McShane announced his departure in a letter read to 1,000 member families at Masses Saturday and Sunday.

McShane's exit comes as the priest faces a lawsuit that is requiring the state's Catholic diocese to divulge more than 50 years of files on all clergy misconduct.

It also follows a meeting Jan. 11 between Vermont Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell and 200 Rutland parishioners who lamented the lack of stability since McShane took a leave of absence last spring, all the while keeping his post.

The Rev. Francis Privé, now serving in Underhill, was to be the latest in a string of fill-in priests starting Feb. 1.

Instead, he'll become Immaculate Heart's new pastor that day.

"It's been long overdue," said John Cassarino, Rutland mayor and church member since his baptism there as a baby. "You can tell people are pleased. The parish has hung tight."

McShane didn't say much in his letter, noting his lawyer advised him not to speak about his case.

The priest faces a civil lawsuit by Michael Bernier, a 45-year-old investment firm vice president who charges he was sexually abused as an altar boy in St. Albans.

The case is the first to be publicized in Vermont since state Attorney General William Sorrell began his office's current investigation of about 40 past or present priests charged with sexual misconduct.

"I'm breathing a sigh of relief," Bernier said Sunday from his home in California. "Maybe the healing can begin for some people."

Bernier and his lawyer, however, still are waiting for the diocese to hand over clergy misconduct files as ordered by a Chittenden Superior Court judge Dec. 16. "I'm perplexed by the delay," Bernier said.

In response, the diocese's two lawyers said they needed several more weeks to comb through church records.

"We're still in the process of reviewing," said Rutland lawyer David Cleary, who is working with Winooski colleague William M. O'Brien. "I think we're probably going to be done by the middle of February."

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