A long-awaited report on conditions in a former Burlington, Vermont orphanage finds abuse occurred there, but there is no evidence of murder.
Two years ago, Buzzfeed published a story titled “We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage.” The details led to the formation of a task force to investigate allegations of child abuse and possible murder at the now closed facility. Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said there were three goals of the task force. “Number one to investigate this allegation of a homicide. Secondly that in the course of that investigation if other criminal conduct was uncovered to investigate those allegations of criminal conduct. And third given the length of time to work with the survivors where justice cannot be brought oftentimes in a court of law but we can still seek justice, we can still seek healing, we can still seek reconciliation through a process that we have embarked upon through our restorative justice model.”
Donovan on Monday released the results of the Criminal Investigation Report into allegations of murder, which include a child thrown from a window and another child thrown down stairs. “We have found that there is no credible evidence to suggest that a murder occurred. In fact there is insufficient evidence that a murder occurred at St. Joseph Orphanage. Therefore there is no criminal charge forthcoming from this review or from this task force.”
The Attorney General added that during the course of the murder investigation other criminal allegations arose. “Those allegations included allegations of sexual abuse and physical abuse and other types of abuse. These allegations were never investigated back decades ago in the 60s, 70s, 50s. As a result for many of these cases there is a lack of collaborating evidence. Moreover we cannot pursue any charge because of the statute of limitations. But it’s clear that abuse did occur at St. Joseph’s Orphanage and that many children suffered.”
The surviving children of the orphanage have formed the group Voices of St. Joseph’s. Brenda Hannon, who lived in the orphanage from 1959 until 1968, read a statement recalling failed lawsuits and decades long efforts for accountability. “Life was unthinkable for thousands of children placed in that orphanage. We suffered physical, mental and in some cases sexual abuse. We were beaten with rods, locked in dark closets and trunks and forced to eat our own vomited food. Some children did not survive their time there. They simply disappeared. The truth deserves to be aired. We acknowledge no one can give us back our childhood. However we are determined to be heard and find justice.”
St. Joseph’s Orphanage operated from 1854 until 1974. The Sisters of Providence, a Canadian order of nuns which operated the facility, did not cooperate with the investigation. The Catholic Diocese of Burlington and Catholic Charities did work with the task force.