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Clergy Abuse Survivors Ask Charlotte Diocese For More Outreach

Nick de la Canal/WFAE

A group of clergy abuse survivors is criticizing the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte for its handling of sexual abuse cases. This comes on the heels of a meeting between Pope Francis and abuse survivors yesterday, and the recent dismissal of criminal and civil sexual assault cases in the Charlotte Diocese.

In 2010, Father Joseph Kelleher was charged in Stanly County with taking indecent liberties with a child when he was a priest in Albemarle in the 1970s. On July 1st, his case was dismissed after the court determined the 86-year-old was mentally incompetent. Court documents say he has dementia and is delusional.

Credit Nick de la Canal/WFAE
Pam Wennersten Laico, whose brother was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in Pittsburgh, speaks to reporters. She was joined by David Fortwengler, left, who was abused in Maryland when he was 11.

In June, two separate lawsuits were dismissed in which two unnamed men accused the Dioceses of Charlotte and Raleigh of covering up sexual abuse crimes committed by Kelleher and another priest, Father Richard Farwell, who was convicted in Rowan County in 2004 of taking indecent liberties with a child.  

The judge dismissed those cases because the statute of limitations had run out. It was too late to file a lawsuit.

“We’ve heard words before. We’ve heard apologies. But what we haven’t seen is action,” says David Fortwengler, a survivor of a clergy sexual assault that took place in Maryland when he was 11.

In a press conference across the street from the Diocese of Charlotte today, Fortwengler and another member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) denounced the recent court decisions and asked the Diocese for more outreach to victims.

I express my profound, heartfelt sorrow to those... who have been victims of this crime. Some clergy did not live up their calling to be an image of Christ the Good Shepard. – Bishop Peter Jugis, February, 2004

Diocese spokesman David Hains said the diocese wasn’t notified of the press conference, but he says it is taking measures to address the problem. He noted the diocese had paid settlements in other cases.

“Everybody who works in our churches and everybody who volunteers in our churches goes through a sex abuse awareness training,” he says. “Additionally, we conduct background checks on everybody who works for us and everybody who volunteers for us.”

Haines also says Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis has met with victims in the past. Haines released a statement from 2004 in which the bishop expressed sorrow for victims and asked for God’s healing. But that, says the survivors network, is just not enough.

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal