Friday, March 29, 2019

Chancellor of Charlotte Catholic Diocese and Fomer Belmont Abbey College Administrator Resigns: Credible Allegations of Sexual Abuse

The second in command of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte has stepped down after a "credible allegation" of sexual misconduct involving a former adult student of Belmont Abbey College, the diocese’s newspaper reported Thursday. 
Monsignor Mauricio West, the diocese’s vicar general and its chancellor for nearly 25 years, has denied the allegation, the Catholic News Herald reported. Following a period of counseling and assessment, the diocese’s bishop said in a statement, West will be on a leave of absence from his ministerial duties. 
West resigned Monday following a finding by the 46-county diocese’s Lay Review Board that the allegations were credible, The statement by Bishop Peter Jugis said. 
The events are alleged to have occurred in the mid-1980s, when West was vice president for student affairs at Belmont Abbey, a small, Catholic liberal arts college in Gaston County. They involved multiple incidents of unwanted overtures toward an adult student over a two-year period, the bishop’s statement said.

And then the article publishes a "sincere apology" from Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte and a "deeply sorry" from Abbot Placid Solari of Belmont Abbey, which owns Belmont Abbey College. As the article also ends by noting, the Charlotte Catholic diocese remains an outlier as it continues to refuse to publish a list of priests accused of abuse in that diocese, months after its sister dioceses in Raleigh and in Virginia have done so.

See also "Allegations of sexual misconduct at Belmont Abbey College shake up Charlotte Catholic Diocese," noting that Father West was Vice-President for Student Affairs at Belmont Abbey at the time he allegedly made repeated sexual advances to a student — a charge deemed credible by the diocesan review board. As the article also notes, West worked for Belmont Abbey from 1979 to 1988.

And, yes, this is that same Belmont Abbey College about which we learned last month that two Belmont Abbey monks had appeared on lists of credibly accused priests in Virginia — Fathers Frederick George and Donald Scales. As we also learned, both were accused of abusing minors in the 1970s as they were doing parish ministry. The allegation against George was reported in 1987, and in 1991, Belmont Abbey monastery brought George back to the monastery and in 1994 made him chaplain of Belmont Abbey College! Placing him in contact with students ….

Regarding Father Scales, Abbot Placid Solari told the media last month that he had become aware only in 2006 (!!) of the allegations against Scales in the 1970s when Scales was serving as pastor of a local parish, St. Michael's, to which he had been assigned by Belmont Abbey and the diocese of Charlotte. Solari stated that when he became aware of these allegations, he reported them to the local Child Protective Services Office. But when the Charlotte Observer asked county law officer Donna Lahser to verify the abbot's claim, she reported to the Observer: "Current and past Gastonia Police Department record systems have been checked, and no report was found. So apparently no police report was filed with us."

The Observer also reported that, when asked why the Charlotte diocese did not alert St. Michael's parish in 2006 that it had received credible allegations of his history of abuse of minors, Charlotte diocesan spokesman David Hains replied, "I don't really know why."

Some background information about the Charlotte diocesan chancellor and former Belmont Abbey monk (and Belmont Abbey College administrator) Mauricio West: West left Belmont Abbey monastery about 1993-4, to the best of my recollection (I was at Belmont Abbey from 1991-3, and we lived in the diocese to 1997). Immediately after he left the monastery and was incardinated as a priest in the Charlotte diocese, Bishop William Curlin made West the diocesan chancellor.

When Peter Jugis succeeded Curlin as bishop of Charlotte in 2003, he kept West on as diocesan chancellor. It is a big deal for an acting diocesan chancellor to be credibly accused of sexual abuse of a student and forced to resign

I find it absolutely impossible to believe that neither the monks of Belmont Abbey nor Bishops Curlin and Jugis were unaware until recently of the persistent, and credible, rumors about Father West's violation of boundaries with students that I myself heard with my own ears from more than one person in my years at Belmont Abbey College and in the diocese of Charlotte. As I also told you in December 2017, after having presented me with a never-explained terminal contract as chair of the theology department at Belmont Abbey College in 1993, Belmont Abbey College then replaced me with Father George Berthold, who turned out to have a history of making sexual advances to seminarians, and who left Belmont Abbey under mysterious circumstances in the middle of an academic year.

When Berthold's past became public knowledge as the Boston archdiocesan files were opened in 2002 (he came to Belmont Abbey from that diocese), both Bishop Curlin and Abbot Solari claimed to have known nothing about his sexual advances to seminarians at the time they hired him to teach theology at Belmont Abbey College. And then none other than Cardinal Bernard Law himself revealed that he had sent written communications to both gentlemen about Berthold's past, and had spoken to both on the telephone about Berthold's past.

As I say in the December 2017 posting to which I've just pointed you, 

This indicates that Bishop William G. Curlin, Father Mauricio West, his chancellor, now-Abbot Placid Solari and then-Abbot Oscar Burnett of Belmont Abbey, and Robert Preston, president of Belmont Abbey College and Solari's brother-in-law, approved the hiring of Berthold with full knowledge of his past.

On 8 February 2003, I wrote Chancellor Mauricio West to say the following:

I am thinking these days of what I have consistently told you, Bishop Curlin, and Abbot Placid: all that is hidden will one day come to light. The stories that will eventually be revealed from Boston and elsewhere, and the connections of Charlotte to those stories, will be made public.

And now the story at the head of this posting ….

(Please see this subsequent posting, a footnote to the posting above, about the damage clericalism does in the Catholic system.)

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