Orphans Abused


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Survivors claim there was rampant abuse decades ago at an orphanage run by the Sisters of Providence in Burlington, Vermont. 

Bishop Christopher Coyne, head of the Burlington diocese, has met one-on-one with some victims. Church Militant’s David Nussman showcases how survivors want more.

Saint Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington, Vermont — which closed in 1974 — has been dogged by allegations that nuns in charge abused children.

On Sept. 16, 18 survivors gathered for a press conference. They’re not satisfied with the diocese’s response and want the diocese to pay for therapy. One of them, Michael Ryan, claimed “the diocese has done as little as possible to help with our healing goals.”

In a statement to the media, the Burlington diocese noted it’s made efforts to arrange one-on-one meetings with victims and work with them to get counseling.

Also at the presser was Katelin Hoffman, who has spoken to the media before about what she experienced at St. Joseph’s.


In my first half hour there, I know I got smacked across the face because I didn’t understand what she was asking me.

Sister Julie started hitting her literally so she was bouncing off the walls.

One of the hardest things was the food. We were made to [finish] the food. And if, of course, we didn’t, they’d force it down us. If we threw up, they’d force us to eat that too.

In May this year, abuse survivors in Vermont were glad to see lawmakers remove the statute of limitations for civil suits involving the abuse of children.

Allegations at St. Joseph’s Orphanage garnered major attention in August 2018 when Buzzfeed put out an in-depth article on disturbing claims of rampant violence and sexual abuse against children there. A few weeks later, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced an investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church — with the orphanage being a point of focus.

Male and female victims have reported sexual abuse by nuns, as well as by priests, seminarians and laymen connected to the orphanage. One victim Buzzfeed cites — Joseph Barquin — says a nun fondled him and cut his genitals with a sharp object when he was a young boy at the orphanage in the 1950s.

In December 2020, Donovan announced the conclusion of the probe into St. Joseph’s. He said authorities for years failed to investigate abuse claims.

Donovan: “And that has been a failure of the state criminal justice system, not to investigate those allegations when they occurred.”

Recently, Bp. Christopher Coyne has hinted the Burlington diocese might file for bankruptcy if enough abuse suits are filed. This would follow a pattern seen in many dioceses around the country.

In 1990, more than 100 survivors of the orphanage received $5,000 each in exchange for nondisclosure agreements with the diocese. But in 2018, Bp. Coyne freed them from the obligations of those nondisclosure agreements.


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