Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Diocese of Charlotte and Fr. George Berthold, Hired to Teach Theology at Belmont Abbey in 1997: A Case Study in Hierarchical Duplicity and Cover-Up

Bill, it appears that the Diocese of Charlotte is still in the midst of an active coverup. If you go to their specific website for abuse matters, click on the “Accused Elsewhere” tab, then on ”George C. Berthold“ you will find this description: 
“Berthold appears on the Archdiocese of Boston’s list of credibly accused clergy for sexual abuse of a minor in 1972 in Massachusetts. The allegation was made known to the Boston archdiocese in 1996, according to published reports, and Berthold was dismissed as dean of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. In 1997, he was recommended for a teaching job at Belmont Abbey College but when the Boston abuse allegation was made public a year later, he was fired from the college and his priestly faculties in the Diocese of Charlotte were removed. His case for dismissal from the clerical state has been referred to the Vatican. The Charlotte diocese has no allegations of sexual abuse documented here.“ 
Based on what you have written and linked above, this is an absolute lie, completely excusing Bishop Curlin and Abbot Solari from their responsibility in failing to heed the warnings from Boston; note the sentence “he was recommended for a teaching job at Belmont Abbey College,” implying a positive recommendation from Boston authorities. I wonder how many other descriptions about other priests on that website are also deliberately in error? And the good Catholics continue to pay this man’s salary and health benefits because the Vatican has failed to laicize him in twenty years...

My response to Adam:

Adam, you're right: the statement you cite completely evades the truth. You cite the following statement:

In 1997, he [Berthold] was recommended for a teaching job at Belmont Abbey College but when the Boston abuse allegation was made public a year later, he was fired from the college and his priestly faculties in the Diocese of Charlotte were removed.

Berthold was recommended for a teaching job at Belmont Abbey with both Bishop Curlin and now-Abbot Placid Solari admitting that they had full knowledge from Cardinal Law of allegations of sexual abuse against Berthold when they hired him to teach at Belmont Abbey.

The statement on the diocesan website clearly wants to lead readers to think that the diocese and Belmont Abbey became aware of allegations that Berthold had sexually molested a seminarian only when those allegations were made public. In 1998, an allegation that Berthold sexually molested an 11-year-old boy was added to allegations against him, by the way.

On 22 January and 3 February 2003, Cardinal Law deposed in Boston that Berthold would not have gone to Belmont Abbey without his (Law's) permission. As Law deposed this, attorneys representing abuse survivors produced a letter dated 22 June 1997 that Law had written Bishop Curlin recommending Berthold for a teaching position at Belmont Abbey. (Recall, as you note that letter, that Curlin had informed me by letter and voicemail message that he had absolutely nothing to do with hiring or firing faculty at Belmont Abbey College.)

Law's 22 June 1997 letter then goes on to say to Curlin, 

I understand you have been in conversation with your secretary, Father Anthony Marcaccio, regarding information given to him by Father William Murphy, my Delegate. I trust the information provided sufficiently describes Father Berthold's situation, allowing you to make a decision as to whether to grant him the faculties of the Diocese of Charlotte.

Clearly, that "information" is information about Berthold's past — which was communicated to Curlin and his secretary Marcaccio by Law.

I won't provide a blow-by-blow account of documentation I have cited in full at the link provided above, showing that, when the Boston Globe reported on 15 May 2002 that Law had recommended Berthold to Belmont Abbey despite knowing allegations of improper physical contact with young seminarians, both Bishop Curlin and Abbot Solari initially indicated that they had had no knowledge of Berthold's past when they brought him to teach theology at Belmont Abbey. But on the same day the Globe published its story, the spokeswoman for the Boston archdiocese told the media that Boston church officials had notified Belmont Abbey and the diocese of Charlotte verbally and in writing of Berthold's past, before the Abbey hired him.

On 17 May, Curlin's secretary Marcaccio admitted to the media that he (which is to say, Curlin himself) had been told by Law about Berthold's past before Belmont Abbey hired him. On the same day, Abbot Solari admitted that he, too, had been told about Berthold's past when he approved Berthold's hire to teach theology at Belmont Abbey College, though he claimed at the same time that the then abbot, Oscar Burnett, had not shown him Law's letter communicating this information.

Ludicrously, as Berthold's hire was being discussed, Abbot Solari's brother-in-law Robert Preston, who was president of Belmont Abbey College, and who also approved his hire, said that he "did not remember much about Berthold but recalled his departure [from Belmont Abbey, where Berthold suddenly departed in the middle of an academic year]," and that he "never knew why" Berthold left Belmont Abbey.

It quite simply evades the truth for the Charlotte diocese to seek to indicate that its officials became aware of Berthold's past only a year after his hire at Belmont Abbey College was approved by Bishop Curlin and now-Abbot Solari. Both of those gentlemen admitted to the media in 2002 that they had known of Berthold's past at the time they approved his hire to teach theology at Belmont Abbey College, and the Boston archdiocese itself confirmed that it had informed both gentlemen of Berthold's past at the time they approved his hire.

This is a case study of how diocesan and religious-order officials have evaded the truth as they have placed known sexual predators in contact with vulnerable people — e.g., college students — knowing as they did so what they were doing. It is also a case study in the game-playing in which dioceses and religious communities engage as they pretend to be releasing information about predatory priests at long last. Game-playing like, "Oh, that all happened in another diocese." Game-playing like, "We diocesan officials have no say in decisions made by a religious community." Game-playing like, "Oh, those members of a religious community who are alleged to have abused minors aren't really ministering in our diocese."

The lying is so very corrosive for those subjected to it — and we've been subjected to endless lies by leaders of Catholic institutions challenged to tell the truth about clerical sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people. But it's also even more corrosive, I think, for those who engage in it and then stand at altars daily and preach about ethics and human solidarity to others, while belying both so grossly in their own lives. What hollowed-out hearts and souls result from such behavior. What hollowed-out human beings it produces.

As Terry McKiernan of Bishop Accountability stated last month,

I know for a fact that sometimes Charlotte got problem priests from other dioceses. Is the Charlotte list going to include those priests or not? Completeness is a really important question to ask when a list comes out. Is the information usable and complete, or is the list a real bare-bones list that isn’t going to get us very far?

For more documentation about Berthold, see Bishop Accountability.

Footnotes to this discussion:

1. The Boston case files that were unsealed in 2002 contain notes and letters showing that Curlin and Law were close personal friends who vacationed together and made a point of meeting each other at annual meetings of the Knights of Malta, to which both belonged.

2. In 2003, Belmont Abbey presented Curlin with its prestigious Grace award for public service.

4. In May 2009, an ordination of a deacon of the Legion of Christ was held in the church of Belmont Abbey monastery, with the current bishop, Jugis, presiding. Google the terms "Legion of Christ" + "Belmont Abbey" and "Legionaries of Christ" + "Belmont Abbey," and you'll find an eye-popping amount of information about the thick ties between that Catholic group now in the limelight all over again as Catholic clerical abuse is discussed, and Belmont Abbey. 

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