Charlotte diocese addresses child sex abuse investigation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time since the Diocese of Charlotte announced it will release a list of priests credibly accused of sex abuse, church leaders met with Charlotte media organizations for on camera interviews.

Father Patrick Winslow, newly appointed as Vicar General and Chancellor of the diocese, acknowledged the diocese needs to improve its communication about this crucial topic.

"I think it is of utmost importance for the diocese to get this issue correct," Father Winslow said. "We have strict protocols and strict procedures for a zero tolerance policy so nobody may be serving in active ministry that has one single allegation of sexual abuse."

Church leaders are currently preparing a list of all priests credibly accused of child sex abuse since the diocese's inception in 1972. Diocese officials said the list is on track to be released by the end of the year. An independent investigative firm is conducting a review of tens of thousands of documents dating back to 1972.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said a good list includes a photo, nicknames, a full work history and information and reaction to the allegation

The diocese said  it is still deciding which information will be included but the list will only cover people accused of child sex abuse. The list will not cover sexual misconduct involving adults. Church officials said this aligns with what other dioceses across the nation are releasing.

"I think it would be inappropriate to conflate the two," Father Winslow said. "The harm that's done to a child with sex abuse is so grave, so deeply rooted, that it needs to be treated as a category itself."​​​​​​

Earlier this year, Monsignor Mauricio West resigned after the Lay Review Board determined an allegation that he made unwanted advances toward someone at Belmont Abbey in the 80's to be credible. Since the allegation was sexual misconduct and not abuse, Monsignor West's name would not be included on the list the diocese is preparing to release.

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The Charlotte Diocese is aware of 20 credibly accused clergy members and said the names and allegations have been previously reported in its newspaper, the Catholic News Herald. Officials said a vast majority of the cases took places decades ago and many outside the Charlotte diocese.

Church officials said when an allegation of sexual abuse is made known, the diocese immediately notifies authorities and removes the accused from ministry. After an investigation by the Lay Review Board, if an allegation is deemed credible, the accused remains out of ministry permanently.

Father Winslow said he won't speak for Bishop Peter Jugis on whether he supports the attorney general having the power to investigate the diocese's sex abuse files. Winslow said he would be in favor of an extension of the statute of limitations for filing sex abuse lawsuits.

"The diocese is not opposed at all and is fully in support of any efforts to bring justice to victims of sex abuse," he said.

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Father Winslow said it is one of his priorities to increase communication and transparency. He said it is important for a full investigation to take place to provide healing for victims.

In 2002, US Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, creating a policy for reporting child sex abuse. The diocese says over 60,000 clergy, employees and volunteers have received criminal background checks since 2002. The diocese says 51,000 employees, volunteers and parishioners have received safe environment training. An independent firm evaluates compliance with the charter annually. The Charlotte diocese has been in compliance every year.