North Carolina

Catholic diocese says it’s unclear whether new child sex abuse claims will emerge

The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte on Monday described its work to uncover past claims of child sexual abuse but offered little clue of how many names may appear on a list of credibly accused clergy that’s expected by the end of this year.

At least 20 clergy members with ties to the diocese have been publicly identified since U.S. bishops approved protocols for handling abuse cases in 2002, the diocese says. Most of the incidents happened decades ago and many took place outside the diocese.

No clergy members now in ministry are under investigation, the diocese told reporters at a briefing Monday. Under diocese policy, clergy are removed from ministry at least temporarily while accusations are investigated.

But the 46-county diocese, which has 244 clergy members, says it doesn’t know whether new allegations have been uncovered in an ongoing review of personnel records compiled since the diocese’s creation in 1972.

The diocese hired a private investigations firm, Huntersville-based U.S. Investigative Security Services, to review more than 1,000 personnel files. The firm will refer claims that merit further investigation to the diocese’s 11-member Lay Review Board, whose volunteer members decide whether accusations are credible.

Because that work is independent and unfinished, the diocese says it doesn’t know what new information will emerge.

News outlets including The Charlotte Observer filed joint court motions last month that seek to unseal documents in two lawsuits that claimed sexual abuse by Charlotte diocese clergy. Both lawsuits were resolved in favor of the diocese.

In response, the diocese said it filed documents under seal in the cases only to protect the identities of the plaintiffs.

The diocese said in May that it would publish by year’s end a list of clergy who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Some dioceses elsewhere have already done so, and survivors of abuse criticized the Charlotte diocese for not acting sooner.

The diocese’s second-in-command, the Rev. Patrick Winslow, told reporters the diocese has decided releasing the names would help victims heal.

“Broadly speaking, previous cases were not handled as effectively as they should have been, and (those practices) don’t meet our current standards,” he said.

Winslow was named vicar general and chancellor in April, after his predecessor, Monsignor Mauricio West, stepped down. The diocese’s Lay Review Board had found credible an allegation of sexual misconduct against West involving a former adult student of Belmont Abbey College in the 1980s. West denied the allegation.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Bruce Henderson writes about transportation, emerging issues and interesting people for The Charlotte Observer. His reporting background is in covering energy, environment and state news.