Katelin Hoffman says she learned right away how abusive St. Joseph’s Orphanage was.
“These nuns had French-Canadian accents, so sometimes I just didn’t understand what they were talking about,” Hoffman said. “Literally in my first half-hour there, I almost got smacked across the face because I didn’t understand what she was asking me.”
The morning after she moved in, Hoffman claims she saw a nun beat another girl so severely that the other girl was bouncing off the walls. Not long after that, when Hoffman was 14, she says a caseworker and a visiting priest sexually abused her — leading her to attempt suicide by slitting her wrist.
“I got grabbed from behind and brought to the hospital, and the next day, admitted,” she said. “”I did go back (to the orphanage) for one night, and somebody asked me if I’d do it again, and I said ‘yes’, so they wouldn’t take me back.”
Hoffman joined Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, and both the Burlington Police and Vermont State Police, announcing a joint task force to look into claims of violent crimes at the orphanage. Those claims include the reported deaths of at least three children.
“It is too early to say where this goes, or for how long, or for how many,” Donovan said. “We have to do our jobs, and we’re committed to doing our jobs in the best possible way and the most transparent way.”
The task force could help bring healing to Hoffman and many other survivors.
“A lot of people have problems with trust,” she said. “When we came forward in the 1990s, a lot of us feel as if we were abused all over again.”
“We’ve evolved as a community, and I think you are seeing in it in many different instances in what’s going on in our country right now regarding believing victims,” Donovan said.
Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne says that he believes the victims, too, and that the church will fully cooperate.