This commentary was written by Maura Labelle of Colchester.
To Bishop Christopher Coyne: I thought you didn’t have any money.
I read with interest in the Aug. 2 edition of VTDigger that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington had donated $50,000 to the Vermonters for Good Government Action Fund, a political action committee that is working in opposition to the abortion amendment, aimed at making reproductive rights part of the Vermont Constitution. My commentary on this contribution has nothing to do with the merits of Article 22, but rather continued mistruths coming from the diocese, and specifically, its leader, Bishop Christopher Coyne.
Coyne has repeatedly stated that the diocese has no money, especially for victims of abuse by clergy. In 2019 on Vermont Public Radio, in a discussion of child abuse by priests, nuns and others falling under the direction of the diocese, Coyne said: “We don’t have any money; there’s no more insurance, we have very limited unrestricted funds.”
Now, the church suddenly comes up with $50,000 to donate to a political action committee, and my belief is that the diocese will donate more money before Vermonters vote in November. On Sept. 14, Bishop Coyne wrote a letter to Vermont Catholics on the diocesan website regarding Article 22, but never mentioned using the diocese’s money for political purposes.
We already know that Bishop Coyne wrote to Vermont Catholics in November of last year saying that the diocese had raised $4.4 million in just three months in a statewide fundraising campaign called “Christ Our Hope: Building a Vibrant Church.” He has no money? There are former Catholic parishes around Vermont sitting empty, because Vermonters are leaving the church due to many concerns, including the priest abuse scandal. Given booming real estate prices in Vermont, those properties, especially the former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Burlington, certainly have great value.
It seems to me that when Coyne has initiatives where he wants to have money, the money is there. But, when it comes to providing counseling or restitution to abuse victims at institutions such as St. Joseph’s Orphanage, or to victims of parish priests, Coyne suddenly announces that the diocese is broke. He can’t have it both ways. His behavior is shameful.
Signs in opposition to Article 22 are also starting to pop up on the lawns of some local Catholic parishes. Bishop Coyne indirectly paid for the signs through his contribution to the PAC working against Article 22.
It’s time for the Vermont attorney general to investigate whether the diocese’s involvement in politics should result in the revocation of its tax-exempt status. If Coyne wants to play politics, the status should be revoked. He can’t have it both ways.