The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, which represents 46 counties in Western North Carolina and six parishes in the Asheville area, announced in August that it will release a list of clergy who have been the subject of credible accusations of sexual abuse by the end of this year. The process of reviewing personnel files and other historical records, which date to the diocese’s founding in 1972, began last fall.
On Nov. 26, the diocese said in a press release that credible allegations of sexual misconduct had been made toward its former vicar general, Monsignor Mauricio West. Those incidents allegedly date from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when West was a monk at Belmont Abbey. All the allegations involve adult victims; the alleged conduct includes unwanted kissing and, in one instance, unwanted touching. West was removed from ministerial duties beginning in March as the diocese investigated the victims’ claims.
West’s replacement, Vicar General Father Patrick Winslow, met with Xpress on Nov. 13 to discuss the process of reviewing diocesan records. Historical information warranting further inquiry has been passed to an independent lay review board, he said. If the board determines that a clergy member should be removed from his post, the bishop will consider that recommendation and make the final decision.
Winslow added that the diocese will pay for professional counseling services to help people address trauma experienced as a result of abuse.
The Charlotte Diocese has lagged behind many of its peers in undertaking a historical review. Since the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., became the first to release a list in 2002, more than 150 religious orders and Roman Catholic dioceses have released similar lists.
On Nov. 20, The Associated Press released an investigation showing that review boards have “routinely undermined sex abuse claims from victims, shielded accused priests and helped the church avoid payouts.” Moreover, the AP found “dozens of cases in which review boards rejected complaints from survivors, only to have them later validated by secular authorities.”
Winslow maintained that incidents of sexual abuse in the church are mostly a thing of the past. While “it’s required a bit of courage to go back and unearth things,” he said, the process is important to “bring a sense of healing for the victims.” Because the number of Catholics is relatively small in the South, “You don’t necessarily have the same history that a Northeastern diocese has. I think the exercise will be helpful in just setting the record straight.”
He stressed that the church has made progress in dealing with the crisis of sexual abuse by its clergy. “I think it’s important to state from the outset that our policies are working, that we’ve engaged in nearly two decades of education, prevention and accountability,” Winslow said. “We recognize the passage of time when it comes to these abuse issues doesn’t make anything easier. Oftentimes these kinds of wounds take time to really do damage in people’s lives and therefore take a lot of time for people to address them and report them.”