SEX ABUSE

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - In­sight - New Tim Funk: 704-358-5703, @tim­funk

have re­leased these lists that it’s be­com­ing harder not to re­lease them. ... It’s go­ing to be hard for Char­lotte to be an out­lier.”

‘TREMEN­DOUS PRES­SURE’

Af­ter the Bos­ton rev­e­la­tions rocked the Catholic Church 17 years ago, bish­ops promised zero tol­er­ance of clergy sex abuse. Dio­ce­ses launched back­ground checks and train­ing for vol­un­teers and em­ploy­ees — in­clud­ing priests — on how to pro­vide a safe en­vi­ron­ment for chil­dren.

In the Char­lotte dio­cese, Hains said, “you could just about fill Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium” with the num­ber of lo­cal Catholics — more than 48,900 — who have gone through its “Pro­tect­ing God’s Chil­dren” sex­ual abuse aware­ness train­ing.

The think­ing in the church in the years since was “we’re do­ing bet­ter, there are fewer cases, we just hope . . . “said Terry McKier­nan, founder of Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org, a watch­dog group that tracks clergy sex abuse cases.

But in Au­gust, he said, “Penn­syl­va­nia blew that up.”

A grand jury re­port re­leased by that state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral de­tailed sex­ual abuse by Catholic priests of more than 1,000 peo­ple, mostly chil­dren.

“Priests were rap­ing lit­tle boys and girls, and the men of God who were re­spon­si­ble for them not only did noth­ing, they hid it all,” the re­port said. “For decades, Mon­signors, aux­il­iary bish­ops, bish­ops,. arch­bish­ops, car­di­nals have mostly been pro­tected; many, in­clud­ing some named in this re­port, have been pro­moted.”

Though some bish­ops in­sisted that these were mostly old cases, McKier­nan said, “that didn’t mat­ter to peo­ple. They were shocked.”

Penn­syl­va­nia’s clergy abuse hot­line has re­ceived 1,400 al­le­ga­tions since the grand jury re­port, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

In North Carolina, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Stein doesn’t have the same in­ves­tiga­tive pow­ers as the at­tor­ney gen­eral in Penn­syl­va­nia or those in some other states —in­clud­ing New York and Florida — where sim­i­lar in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Catholic Church are now un­der­way.

Stein said he hopes to con­vince the leg­is­la­ture to broaden the state’s in­ves­tiga­tive grand jury statute. But for now, the clergy sex abuse al­le­ga­tions com­ing into his of­fice — in­clud­ing at least one in­volv­ing the Char­lotte dio­cese — are be­ing fun­neled to lo­cal dis­trict at­tor­neys.

All this has turned up the heat on Catholic dio­ce­ses, in­clud­ing those in North Carolina. Many bish­ops are re­spond­ing by re­leas­ing these lists of priests who have been, as most put it, “cred­i­bly ac­cused” of child sex abuse. The Raleigh dio­cese said priests were in­cluded on its list when the al­le­ga­tion had “a sem­blance of truth,” words from Catholic canon law.

“The lists are hap­pen­ing now,” said Clo­hessy of SNAP, “be­cause of tremen­dous pres­sure from par­ents, po­lice, pros­e­cu­tors, parish­ioners and law­mak­ers..”

And in North Carolina, pres­sure from the at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Last Septem­ber, the Char­lotte dio­cese be­gan do­ing what Stein said his of­fice had urged it to do: Im­me­di­ately re­port all child sex abuse al­le­ga­tions to the North Carolina Con­fer­ence of Dis­trict At­tor­neys. The Raleigh dio­cese has been do­ing that since 2003.

Now Stein would like to see the Char­lotte dio­cese re­lease its list of cred­i­bly ac­cused priests.

“I think it needs to be done sen­si­tively and thought­fully,” Stein said in ac­knowl­edg­ing some of the con­cerns the dio­cese is mulling. “But if I were a par­ent whose fam­ily in­ter­acted with a priest for many years, I would very much want to know if that priest were al­leged to have en­gaged in child sex abuse so that I could talk to my loved ones, my chil­dren. It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that it hap­pened and they had shoved it deep into their core and haven’t ad­e­quately con­fronted the pain that that abuse cre­ated.”

‘ONE OF LEAST TRANS­PAR­ENT’

Char­lotte at­tor­ney Seth Lang­son said he’s not sur­prised that the Char­lotte dio­cese is, in his words, “re­sist­ing all ef­forts to re­lease the names of ac­cused priests.”

He said he has brought three law­suits against the dio­cese in child sex abuse cases, win­ning a $1 mil­lion set­tle­ment in 2010 for his client, Robby Price, who was mo­lested in 1999 when he was a 14-year-old al­tar boy.

The preda­tor priest in his case was the Rev. Robert Yurgel, who sex­u­ally abused Price for six months, in­clud­ing in the sanc­tu­ary at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Bal­lan­tyne and in the rec­tory at Our Lady of Con­so­la­tion Church on Statesville Av­enue, Langston said.

“I want the strug­gle I have en­dured to be a sym­bol to other abuse sur­vivors,” Price said in 2010, when he was 25. “It is pos­si­ble to bring crim­i­nal and civil jus­tice to vic­tims of sex­ual abuse.”

In his court bat­tles, Lang­son said he has re- viewed more than 30,000 pages of doc­u­ments pro­duced by the dio­cese, in­clud­ing per­son­nel files. In a re­cent in­ter­view, he said he he be­lieves the Char­lotte dio­cese is “one of the least trans­par­ent” in the coun­try.

“Peo­ple would be stunned at the names,” he added, if a com­plete list of ac­cused priests in the dio­cese is ever re­leased. Lang­son said he could of­fer no de­tails, since those par­tic­u­lar dioce­san files — list­ing all ac­cu­sa­tions go­ing back to 1980 — were stamped “con­fi­den­tial.”

Hains strongly de­nied Lang­son’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the dio­cese as se­cre­tive on mat­ters of clergy sex abuse. Among other things, he said:

The Catholic News

Her­ald, a weekly news­pa­per pub­lished by the dio­cese and sent to 60,000 Catholic homes, re­ports on all clergy sus­pended or re­moved from min­istry be­cause of al­le­ga­tions, ar­rests or con­vic­tions of child sex abuse.

Au­di­tors paid by the

U.S. Catholic Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops have found the Char­lotte Dio­cese to be in com­pli­ance with its “Char­ter for the Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple” ev­ery year since the char­ter’s be­gin­ning in 2003.

The dio­cese has a

vic­tims as­sis­tance co­or­di­na­tor and a lay-led board that re­views sex abuse re­ports. Its mem­bers in­clude in­ves­ti­ga­tors and “ex­perts on child sex abuse..”

The Ob­server re­quested in­ter­views with David Harold, the vic­tims as­sis­tance co­or­di­na­tor, and with Rick Menze, who chairs the Re­view Board. Hains said Harold was not avail­able and that Menze had de­clined the re­quest.

Bishop Jugis, who has led the dio­cese since 2003, re­fused to talk with the Ob­server. Jugis re­turned to Char­lotte on Thurs­day af­ter at­tend­ing a week-long spir­i­tual re­treat with other U.S bish­ops that was called to pray over the church’s child sex abuse cri­sis.

Hains pointed out that Jugis de­voted all three of his pub­lic state­ments at the dio­cese’s Eucharis­tic Congress last Septem­ber to the cri­sis.

“I share your sor­row and I am truly sorry for these crimes against the in­no­cents,” Jugis told Catholics at­tend­ing the an­nual gath­er­ing in up­town Char­lotte then. “This abuse im­prints life­long scars on its vic­tims. In ad­di­tion, the en­tire church has been very se­ri­ously wounded.”

Jugis has also met with vic­tims, Hains said, and has en­dorsed calls by the U.S. bish­ops for a new lay-led in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion “with the au­thor­ity to fol­low all leads wher­ever the truth may lead.”

Hains also cited a fivepage spread in the Aug. 31, 2018 edi­tion of the Catholic News Her­ald that re­ported facts and fig­ures on the dio­cese’s his­tory and re­sponse on the child sex abuse cri­sis. Ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cles, there have been 15 al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse in­volv­ing seven priests in the Char­lotte dio­cese since 2004. Three of the priests, none named, had died by the time the abuse ac­cu­sa­tions were made. The other four were re­moved from min­istry. Two were charged with a crime, and one — Yurgel — was con­victed.

But the News Her­ald re­port on how much money the dio­cese has spent on sex abuse lit­i­ga­tion and coun­sel­ing for vic­tims left out what its in­sur­ance com­pa­nies paid. It said le­gal costs to­taled about $1.4 mil­lion “not al­ready cov­ered by in­sur­ance,” while coun­sel­ing and other med­i­cal ser­vices for vic­tims came to $633,000.

At the Ob­server’s re­quest, the dio­cese also cal­cu­lated what the in­sur­ance com­pa­nies paid. Since 2003, Hains said, the in­sur­ance com­pa­nies have paid much more to set­tle two cases in the dio­cese in­volv­ing the sex­ual abuse of a mi­nor. In 2008, he said, the set­tle­ment costs and le­gal fees paid by in­sur­ance to­taled nearly $1.7 mil­lion. In 2009, he said, the to­tal was just over $2 mil­lion.

Asked about the two cases, Hains re­sponded by email that he couldn’t of­fer any other de­tails, and that “we may have (a) non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment in these cases.”

Hains did point out that there were no le­gal ex­penses for child sex abuse cases in fis­cal year 2017-18 and no such cases were pend­ing.

As for re­leas­ing the list of priests, “We just haven’t de­cided if we’re go­ing to do it,” Hains said.

The dio­cese may opt to wait for guid­ance gleaned from a sum­mit on the sub­ject that has been sched­uled by the Vat­i­can for Fe­bru­ary, with Pope Fran­cis meet­ing with top bish­ops from the U.S. and other coun­tries.

Then the U.S. bish­ops are ex­pected to re­con­vene in June, and pos­si­bly take ac­tion on how to move for­ward.

McKier­nan of Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org said Char­lotte Bishop Jugis should not only re­lease a list, but put one out that is so com­plete — with the ac­cused priests’ parish as­sign­ments and some­thing about the al­le­ga­tions — that it be­comes a model for other dio­ce­ses want­ing to “get it all out in the open.”

“What’s been hap­pen­ing (with the lists) is that we’ve got­ten a bet­ter sense of best prac­tices,” McKier­nan said. “Why doesn’t Char­lotte help that along rather than stand­ing back un­til they’re told what to do?”

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