Reporter Sarah Delia Talks About 'The List,' A New Investigative Series From WFAE

Dec 3, 2019

Most Catholic dioceses in the country have released a list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. The diocese of Charlotte has not released a list, but its bishop has said he’s committed to doing so by the end of the year. In the meantime, WFAE’s Sarah Delia has been learning how such a list is compiled, what it means, and how victims of clergy continue to deal with the abuse they suffered.

She’s produced a four-part series. It’s called "The List," which you can read and listen to it at wfae.org/thelist. Sarah joins "Morning Edition" host Lisa Worf to talk about the new series.

Credit Greg Harris

LISA WORF: Why hasn’t the diocese released a list of credibly accused clergy? It’s among the last to do so.

SARAH DELIA: Well, you’re right, the Charlotte Diocese is one of the last to release a list, according to BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog organization that tracks and analyzes lists released by dioceses across the country. Out of 178 dioceses in the country, 146 have released lists. Charlotte is one of the last to do so, especially in the South.

Why that is exactly is a little murky. A former Charlotte diocese spokesperson, David Hains, who is now retired, told the Charlotte Observer back in January 2019 that the diocese wasn’t convinced that there was “empirical evidence that publishing a list brings comfort or aid to victims.”

But in a statement from Bishop Peter Jugis in May 2019 — just a few months later — there seemed to be this change of heart. Jugis said, “Through my discussions with abuse survivors, I have come to believe that a full airing of abuse from the past is crucial in the healing process for victims and for the entire church.”

I should point out that the Charlotte Diocese is a part of what’s called Ecclesiastical Province of Atlanta. That includes the dioceses of Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, Savannah (Georgia) and Charleston (South Carolina). Out of that group, the Charlotte Diocese is the only one that has not yet released a list.

WORF: What do we know about the abuse that occurred by clergy in the Charlotte Diocese? Do you have a sense of how extensive it was?

DELIA: We do have some sense of some of the abuse that occurred in the Charlotte Diocese but that’s mostly because of lawsuits that were filed in Mecklenburg County. In the first episode of the series, we hear from Anthony. Anthony alleges he was abused by Richard Farewell, who at one point was a priest at St. Ann in Charlotte. Anthony, who asked we only use his first name, filed a civil lawsuit in 2011, but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out.

ANTHONY: I remember him telling me: ‘"Don't tell anybody about this. I did this because I love you. This is how God wants us to show each other that we love each other.’"

DELIA: And you’ll also hear from Robby Price, who was abused by Robert Yurgel when he was 14 years old at St. Matthew in Charlotte in 1999. Yurgel was convicted of second-degree sex offense. Price settled with the Charlotte Diocese for $1 million in a civil lawsuit.

ROBBY PRICE: Being someone who always looked up to priests and those in the church as extensions of God and those whom we obey and we try to live our lives like, I didn't know if it was right or wrong or what I should be doing. No child should ever have to be put into the question of whether this was right or wrong. But that's the position in which I was forced into by this man. 

DELIA: But we’ve also found out about Charlotte Diocese clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse through other dioceses in the country releasing lists. That happened when the diocese in Richmond released a list. It included two priests who had credible accusations against them, and both had served at St. Michael in Gaston County at one point in their careers.

WORF: You report that lists released by different dioceses vary greatly. Can you explain those differences? And what does the Charlotte Diocese plan to include on its list?

DELIA: So, because there is no standard mandate on what information is to be included, it’s up to each individual diocese on what information will be included. And the head of the diocese is the bishop.

So, at this point, I’ve looked at a lot of different lists and can you tell you it varies. The Sacramento Diocese released a very extensive list —it has the assignment histories of priests — where and when they worked, what they were accused of, how many people came forward and accused them. There’s a lot of information. But then you look at the Raleigh Diocese, and it doesn’t include as much information. It includes the year the alleged abuse occurred, the year it was reported, and if the accused is alive or dead. No assignment histories are included or details about the abuse.

The Charlotte Diocese says it will include clergy who have credible accusations against them who are alive or dead, who have at one point served at the Charlotte Diocese — parish and ordered priests. Here’s an exchange I had with Father Patrick Winslow. He’s second in command at the diocese.

DELIA: So if I’m understanding correctly: The name of the credibly accused, the incident around the accusation, and then also the assignment history?

PATRICK WINSLOW: Yes. We will provide relevant information to help the community and all of those who have been affected or may have been affected in the past to understand what happened. 

DELIA: As far as who decides who is on the list, it’s a combination of a lay review board’s findings as to if an accusation is credible, which then makes a recommendation to the bishop. And the diocese has hired an independent investigative firm to go through its archives dating back to 1972, when the Charlotte Diocese formed. Those findings from that firm’s investigation should help inform the list.

WORF: Bishop Peter Jugis said in May that he’s committed to releasing a list by the end of the year. Do we know if that will still happen? Did you talk to him?

DELIA: Bishop Jugis was not made available for an interview for this series, so I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to speak to him. But the last we heard from the diocese, they are still saying a list will be published by the end of the year.