Monday, January 20, 2020

Now This in Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina: "Advocate Wants Former Belmont Abbey Priest Named as Child Sexual Abuser"

In an article entitled, "Advocate wants former Belmont Abbey priest named as child sexual abuser," Nathan Morabito writes

The names of more than 40 clergy members credibly accused of sexually abusing children before, during or after their time in the Diocese of Charlotte are now public, but just weeks after church leaders released that long-awaited list, we've learned there are still others who served in our area who were not named.

Morabito's report focuses on Father Timothy Kelly, who came to Belmont Abbey in the Charlotte diocese in 1989 to function as the administrator of that Benedictine monastery after its abbot, Peter Stragand, left the monastery in 1988 and married, and the monastery was not permitted to elect a new abbot due to the considerable turmoil within the monastery. The monastery was then placed under the administration of Timothy Kelly, a monk of St. John's in Minnesota, and was not permitted to elect another abbot until Kelly left Belmont Abbey in 1991, where he was then made abbot at St. John's, serving from 1992 to 2000. 

Now, as the article and video state, those monitoring the abuse story in the Charlotte diocese are asking why Timothy Kelly's name is not included in the list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse who have served in the Charlotte diocese, which Bishop Jugis released on 30 December last year.

As the article reports, multiple abuse allegations have been made against Timothy Kelly (see Bishop Accountability's database of accused priests for extensive documentation). A lawsuit is now pending against Kelly in New York.

The response of the diocese of Charlotte to questions about why Kelly is not listed in its list of credibly accused priests:

"We have no record of Father Timothy Kelly serving in ministry for the Diocese of Charlotte," the diocese said in a statement Friday.

But as survivor advocate Patrick Wall, a former monk of St. John's who knew Timothy Kelly well and served under him, states in the video at the head of the posting,

He was a priest, he was ministering to the people of North Carolina, and he was in charge of many monks who were functioning as priests in the diocese of Charlotte.

To which Father Patrick Winslow, who was named by Bishop Jugis as Charlotte's chancellor when the former chancellor, Father Mauricio West, resigned after allegations of sexual abuse about him surfaced (and here), replies in the video above,

This bishop controls his diocese but this community has their own superiors that control their personnel. 

The allegations of abuse made against West date from years in which he was a monk of Belmont Abbey, and was serving as an administrator at Belmont Abbey College, which was founded by and is sponsored by and joined to Belmont Abbey monastery.

I happen to know a bit about this topic, since I was hired to chair the theology department of Belmont Abbey College in 1991, and was there for part of the time in which Timothy Kelly was administrator of the Belmont Abbey monastery. I can testify from what I saw with my own eyes that what Patrick Wall says is absolutely correct: Timothy Kelly most certainly did serve in a ministerial position in the Charlotte diocese, presiding at Mass in the Belmont Abbey church, hearing confessions, overseeing monks who were assigned to pastoral positions in various places in the diocese, monks who, in addition to saying Mass and hearing confessions, gave retreats and workshops within the diocese, as did Kelly himself.

If this is not "ministering in the Charlotte diocese," I'm at a total loss to understand what that phrase can possibly mean.

When I was presented by Belmont Abbey College with a never-explained terminal contract in the spring of 1993, though my evaluations by students, peers, and supervisors had been glowing, and when I sought to discover a reason for that contract, I asked to see the abbot of Belmont Abbey monastery, Oscar Burnett. He refused to meet with me, communicating with me by note and phone message that he had nothing to do with running the college or with what happened to faculty in the college.

When I asked to meet with the bishop of Charlotte, he refused to meet with me, telling me he had no jurisdiction over a Benedictine monastery that happened to be in his diocese, and had nothing to do with what happened to faculty at the college owned by Belmont Abbey monastery. He communicated this by letter and a phone message via his secretary. He suggested I write the papal nuncio and ask if he had any jurisdiction in this matter.

I did that, knowing that this was a futile step to take and that these institutions — which are joined at the hip — were playing games with me, each pretending to have no connection to the other when anyone with much sense can see how enmeshed they are with each other. The papal nuncio wrote me back to say that he was sorry, but he had no jurisdiction over Belmont Abbey monastery.

Then in 2002, this happened: after I resigned from the theology department at Belmont Abbey College in 1993 when I was stonewalled and lied to by the superiors of Belmont Abbey monastery and the bishop of the Charlotte diocese, the college hired as my replacement a priest named Father George Berthold. The faculty committee making that hire functioned under the supervision of a monk of Belmont Abbey who is now the abbot of Belmont Abbey monastery, Placid Solari.

In 2002 when litigation forced the Boston archdiocese — where Berthold was serving when Belmont Abbey hired him several years earlier — to open its sealed files about abuse cases, lo and behold, there was information in those files indicating that, when Belmont Abbey hired Berthold, it knew full well that allegations of abuse of a seminarian had been made against him. The school hired him anyway. 

When the information in the files reached the media, both the abbot of Belmont Abbey, Solari, and the bishop of Charlotte, Curlin, told the press that they were shocked, shocked to hear of allegations made against Berthold prior to his hiring at Belmont Abbey. They had no knowledge of Berthold's past when they sought to hire him on the theology faculty at Belmont Abbey and approved his hire, they insisted. At that point, none other than the infamous Cardinal Law blew the whistle on Solari and Curlin and released documents showing he had communicated both by phone and letter with Solari and Curlin and had told them of Berthold's past.

So much for the fiction outright lie told to me by both the abbot of Belmont Abbey monastery and Bishop Curlin of the Charlotte diocese that the bishop has no jurisdiction over the Benedictine monastery and nothing to do with seeing faculty hired or fired at Belmont Abbey College, and that the abbot of Belmont Abbey monastery has nothing to do with the hiring and firing of faculty at the college his Belmont Abbey monastery owns. As I wrote a year ago,

When the abuse crisis broke open with the Boston cases in 2002 (which snared both the bishop of Charlotte and the Belmont abbey monastery in the case of Rev. George Berthold [and here], whom they hired to replace me in Belmont Abbey College's theology department), and when abuse survivors reported again and again that bishops and religious superiors refused to meet face-to-face with them, I knew immediately that survivors were telling the truth. I had been there.
I knew this past week when I read reports in the New York Times that people sexually molested by priests in religious communities were telling the truth when they report commonly being given the runaround when they approach diocesan officials to do something, since I was told by the bishop of Charlotte  (through his intermediary) that he has absolutely no jurisdiction over Belmont Abbey monastery and nothing to do with hiring or firing faculty at Belmont Abbey College — though the George Berthold case exposes that lie, since no less than Cardinal Law revealed that he had communicated with both Bishop William Curlin of Charlotte and with the prior of the monastery who is now its abbot, Placid Solari, regarding Berthold's hiring.

So much for the disingenous statement, "This bishop controls his diocese but this community has their own superiors that control their personnel." These institutions are joined at the hip, and act in concert with each other, with those at the top of both the monastery and the diocese closely consulting with each other and making decisions based on such consultation.

When, according to the diocese's own website at its page for its new minor seminary, St. Joseph's, we can read explicitly that "St. Joseph College Seminary is affiliated with Belmont Abbey College, where our seminarians major in Philosophy in preparation for theological studies at the graduate level," and where a photo of Bishop Jugis and Abbot Solari standing side by side is featured on the same page, we're supposed to believe the fiction outright lie that the Benedictine monastery located in the diocese of Charlotte, whose college is training diocesan seminarians and whose monks serve as pastors in the diocese, is not ministering in the Charlotte diocese and the bishop has no jurisdiction over these ministers?

Give me a break.

After Bishop Jugis released his list of names of (all deceased) priests tied to the Charlotte diocese credibly accused of sexual abuse, SNAP, the Charlotte Observer, and WCNC Charlotte all issued warnings to the diocese that it should be doubly sure it had released full, complete information — or this list would be a thorn in the diocese's side. 

Catholic officials in Charlotte, NC have finally followed in the footsteps of the vast majority of dioceses around the country and released a list of priests accused of abuse. Unfortunately, the list released today is incomplete and leaves off allegations related to other church staffers. We call on them to update this list immediately in order to provide a clearer and more complete look at abuse within the Diocese of Charlotte. 

The release is an important step for the diocese, but it’s one that could be marred by new revelations of missteps by the church nationwide. An Associated Press analysis published late last week revealed that more than 900 Catholic clergy accused of child sexual abuse and other sexual misbehavior were left off of lists released across the United States. Those clergy included members of religious orders or priests arrested for sexual crimes such as rape, solicitation and receiving or viewing child pornography. …

Those who have worked closely with cases of sexual abuse and cases of allegations of sexual abuse from within the Catholic Church say while the list released Monday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte might provide validation for abuse victims, it is far from complete.  
"It's incomplete, there are names missing," attorney Seth Langson said. 

Several days ago, attorney Seth Langson, mentioned above — he has represented abuse survivors in the Charlotte diocese and litigated on their behalf — spoke to local radio host Francene Marie about the list released by the Charlotte diocese at the end of 2019. Francene Marie asks Seth Langson if the Charlotte list had only 14 or 16 names. Seth replies, 

Well, first of all the list only listed people who, if they hadn't already been charged like Father Farwell, everybody listed was dead, which is kind of convenient. I can assure you that all the abusers in the Charlotte diocese are not dead. I've seen certain documents that are subject to protective order, so I can't release the specific contents of those, so when I talk about stuff, it's stuff I know independently, and then I can only sort of let people fill in the blanks.

Seth then goes on to point out that the Charlotte list does not contain the assigment records of priests that reveal the diocese's history of moving abusive priests from parish to parish, casting light, as he says, on the corruption of leadership in the diocese. Assignment records for all priests used to be publicly available, but have now disappeared from view. As he also notes, what many people do not realize is that priests removed from pastoral office due to abusing minors or vulnerable people still receive financial support from the church. Every Catholic putting money in the collection plate is supporting these priests.

Yes, I know this is an old story by now, and yes, I know it's replicated over and over, in diocese after diocese and religious community after religious community. And I am not sure what will shift the narrative and stop the game-playing and lying, especially when an institution is governed by a closed, privileged club — a clerical elite, in the case of the Catholic church — answerable to no one except itself. 

I also know that, like many other folks, I am growing very weary of the lies, the game-playing, and the abuse inflicted on vulnerable people. And I do keep talking about the stories that come to my attention precisely because I want to do my own tiny bit to stop all of that.

(Please see this subsequent posting with further information about this story.)

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