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Vermont diocese settles lawsuit

Plaintiff drops sex abuse case, gets $120,000

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Vermont's Catholic Church has paid $120,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing a priest of child sexual abuse.

In return, Michael Bernier, a 46-year-old California investment firm executive, has dropped his court case against the Diocese of Burlington and the Rev. James McShane, who worked as director of the state church's Office of Youth Ministry and chaplain for the Vermont Boy Scouts and Catholic Camp Holy Cross in Colchester. McShane resigned as a Rutland pastor last year.

Bernier says he was a 12-year-old parochial school student in St. Albans when McShane repeatedly "sexually abused, sexually exploited, and sexually assaulted" him around 1970.

Bernier filed charges against McShane and the diocese a year and a half ago. Defense lawyers have tried for months to dismiss the case.

Bernier sought and eventually won permission to review more than 50 years of Vermont church files on all clergy misconduct but decided to settle rather than wait for pending court motions to be decided.

"Besides what happened to me, I didn't need to be revictimized by them dragging their feet and trying to wear me down," Bernier said.

The diocese's lawyer William M. O'Brien of Winooski confirmed the Bernier settlement.

"We have no evidence to suggest Father McShane abused Michael Bernier, but we are taking Mr. Bernier's allegations at face value," O'Brien said Saturday.

McShane could not be reached for comment.

The diocese's settlement comes after it agreed to pay at least two other recent accusers a total of $118,000 to drop the church portion of their civil lawsuits against priests.

The church still faces at least one more civil lawsuit in Chittenden Superior Court. Robert Douglas II, 38, of Burlington, alleges the former Rev. Alfred Willis sexually abused and exploited him as a child at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Milton around 1979. Lawyers for the diocese and Douglas are working to settle that case, too.

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