BURLINGTON, Vt. — As a priest, James Larche presided over weddings and funerals, some of the holiest sacraments for believers of the Catholic faith. But in 2012, he started over, becoming an assistant nurse manager at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Then the Ogdensburg Catholic Diocese in New York released a list in 2018 of former priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult. Larche was on the list.
By then, Larche had been working in his new role for six years. A spokesperson for the University of Vermont Medical Center said the facility hired Larche before the accusation was made public.
A USA TODAY Network investigation found that Larche is one of thousands of Catholic officials across the nation who have been named by local dioceses as credibly accused of sexual misconduct but who haven’t been charged with a crime. In many cases, Larche and others moved on to new careers in part because their employers were unable to find out about accusations while backgrounding them during the hiring process, raising potential liability issues once the priests were later named by church officials in the ongoing Catholic Church sex abuse crisis.
Employers say they have no way of finding out about accusations that don’t become criminal charges or convictions. Without criminal convictions, the priests are not listed on sex offender registries or required to notify the state when they relocate. Meanwhile, critics have accused the church of withholding information to help priests avoid the period of time during which victims can pursue criminal charges under most state laws.
In August, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne released the names of 40 priests found credibly accused of child sex abuse. In his pastoral letter, Coyne noted that none of the men listed had been active in the church since 2002.
That’s cause for concern, said Zachary Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“That gives me way more fear, because you knew these people were abusing children, you unceremoniously dumped them on the public in 2002 without any sort of warning and just now, 17 years later, that information is coming out,” Hiner said of church officials. “The abuse may have occurred in the past, but the information is coming forward now. That’s what people need to address and respond to.”
In Ogdensburg, Larche is one of 28 priests named by the diocese as credibly accused. The list of names is just that: A list of names. It doesn’t include details about the nature of the allegations, when and where the priests served, and whether they left voluntarily or were removed from ministry.
Larche said he left the priesthood voluntarily in 2000. Five years later, he said, he was contacted by the diocese about the accusations. He told the USA TODAY Network he didn’t commit a crime.
“I was shocked to hear of this charge many years later,” Larche said. He said the allegation was never brought to his attention at the time it allegedly occurred. “I wish it would have been looked into at the time so that I could understand the person’s concerns. I am saddened to think anything I did was experienced as being intentionally harmful.”
Larche obtained his nursing license in 2012 and was hired by the University of Vermont Medical Center that year. Michael Carrese, a media relations spokesperson for the medical center, said Larche passed a background check during the hiring process, and another after the list was released. The hospital’s most recent investigation concluded Larche is not a risk to patients.
“The investigation found there were no complaints about his behavior at work, and confirmed he had no criminal record and there were no other accusations of sexual misconduct against him,” Carrese said. “Since 2012, he has worked successfully as an assistant nurse manager on a floor that treats orthopedic patients.”
Carrese said Larche never worked on the pediatric floor, but he has worked with adolescents.
Darcy Fargo, communications director of the Ogdensburg diocese, declined to comment about the nature of the accusations against Larche, saying the church does not provide details on individual cases. The diocese did not respond to further requests for information about where and how long Larche served or the criteria for a priest’s inclusion on the list.
Property records from 1991 through 1999 list Larche as a resident at least three different churches in the Ogdensburg Diocese: Sacred Heart Church in Massena, Holy Family Church in Watertown, and St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg.
Even if a former priest had been convicted for a crime involving sexual misconduct, potential employers might not have had access to information that would help in their hiring process. Publicly available information from the Vermont sex offender registry is limited to names and general areas of residence. Employers can, however, request additional information from the registry “where such disclosure is necessary to protect the public,” according to Vermont’s Secretary of State website.
What’s more, a criminal conviction may not have barred an applicant from obtaining a nursing license in Vermont. Michelle Lavoie, a licensing administrator for the Vermont Board of Nursing, said the state does not require fingerprinting or a background check. Lavoie said the board does consider criminal records when approving licenses.
“If someone has been convicted of a crime, the board needs to review all court documents to determine if the individual can be licensed,” she said. “It really is a case by case basis.”
Lindsay Schnell contributed to this story