Backstory: Most Unanswered Doors | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Backstory: Most Unanswered Doors


Published December 25, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 30, 2019 at 12:04 p.m.

Bishop Christopher Coyne - FILE: SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • File: Sasha Goldstein
  • Bishop Christopher Coyne

This "backstory" is a part of a collection of articles that describes some of the obstacles that Seven Days reporters faced while pursuing Vermont news, events and people in 2019.

My editors call it a "door knock." But the simplicity of that term belies the courage it takes to walk up to a stranger's front door and rap on it — in hopes of getting a face-to-face interview with a subject who hangs up or doesn't answer the phone.

I found myself on a two-day "door knock" in September after Seven Days set out to locate the dozen surviving priests named on a list of 39 Vermont Catholic clergy credibly accused of sex abuse. Seven of them, as far as we could deduce, still lived in Vermont. We went to find them.

On the first day I teamed up with a colleague, Derek Brouwer, and was happy to have a cocaptain on this difficult assignment. The awful details — questions about betrayals, guilt or innocence — were all in the mix.

Along with the emotional weight, there were logistical challenges. Some addresses were wrong. Or confusing. I drove, and Derek helped navigate. Together we talked through intercoms and pressed apartment buzzers that no one responded to. In one case we walked into a locked senior living building by scooting in behind a resident. We found our way to the unit we were looking for and knocked, but no one answered.

At a different address, we were about to leave after multiple knocks. Then the door opened a crack, and an old, frail man peeked through it. He was the ex-priest we were looking for, but he wouldn't comment. On one level, it was a win to be able to pose the question to an actual human being; on another, given the man's aged state, the encounter was just sad and pathetic.

The next day Derek and I split up to maximize our remaining reporting time. He headed to Enosburgh. I set out for Glover in the Northeast Kingdom. I drove fast for the first hour and then had to slow down as I bumped over dirt roads. I passed old cemeteries, tall corn in the September sun, weathered barns, and flower beds full of zinnias and sunflowers. I remember thinking the day was too beautiful for this miserable mission.

The cell service held up long enough for me to map my way to the property I was seeking, a newish house set on an old hill farm. There in the front yard was ninetysomething former priest John "Jack" Kenney. No knocking required. He was polite, and so was I.

He denied the allegation in a calm voice, and when I continued to question him, he dismissed the whole list as "silly." Then he suggested that I leave.

As I drove back to Burlington, I knew I had gotten what I needed: an interview that, while brief, said it all.

Speaking of Backstory, Vermont Catholic Clergy