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Accusations of decades of child abuse at orphanage lead to investigation

The former St. Joseph's Orphanage. (Google Maps)

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Repeated and inhumane beatings. Traumatic sexual abuse of minors. A child being pushed out a window to his death.

That’s what several former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington say happened at the hands of nuns and other staff for decades before the orphanage, run by the Catholic Church, closed in 1974.

The accusations, the subject of a Buzzfeed News article published last month, have prompted the creation of a joint task force to investigate survivor stories and decide on any possible criminal prosecution, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced Monday.

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office, the Burlington Police Department, the Vermont State Police, and the Chittenden County State Attorney’s Office will make up the task force, Donovan said.

There is no statute of limitations involving murder cases in the state of Vermont. That’s one reason Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said investigating the accusations of abuse is important, even if they happened decades ago.

“These children were some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and our community failed to protect them,” Weinberger said in a statement. “There may still be an opportunity to secure justice for some orphanage victims. If it is possible to make murder charges at this point we will, whether the perpetrators are living or dead.”

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne has pledged full cooperation with the investigation.

“The fact that those events happened over 50 years ago does not lessen the horror and grief we all feel at the thought of innocent and vulnerable children suffering abuse at the hands of those who should have cared for and protected them,” Coyne said said in a statement posted on his website. . “I offer to these authorities our cooperation and I pledge that the Diocese of Burlington will be forthcoming with anything that can be helpful in resolving the allegations about these matters.”

Donovan said the joint task force was formed after the publication of a Buzzfeed article entitled “We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage.”

The BuzzFeed News article includes accusations of abuse toward children by nuns and other orphanage staff, including claims of staff throwing children into lakes, forcing children to eat vomit, and repeatedly physically and sexually abusing them. Former residents of the orphanage said they saw nuns suffocate a newborn and throw a child out a window to his death. CNN has not been able to corroborate any of these reports.

A hotline will be set up this week for survivors to report their stories, Donovan said. Anyone with information relating to incidents at St. Joseph’s Orphanage can also make reports to the Burlington Police Department online.