Charlotte Diocese chancellor steps down after 'credible' allegation of sexual misconduct

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Catholic Diocese announced Thursday morning that Monsignor Mauricio West has stepped down as chancellor.

The resignation comes after the Lay Review Board determined an allegation of sexual misconduct to be "credible."

According to the diocese, the allegations were made by a former adult student at Belmont Abbey College over a two-year period during the mid-1980s.

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The allegations claim Monsignor West, who was vice president for student affairs at the time, made unwanted advances.

No criminal charges have been filed, according to the diocese.

The review board that determined the credibility of the allegations was established in 2002. Officials said the Bishop appoints Lay people and clergy to serve and its deliberations are confidential.

The news comes as the diocese continues to wait before releasing a list of priests who have faced credible accusations of sexual abuse.

The diocese said discussions are underway on whether or not to release the names of priests, but there is no timetable.

[LINK: SC priests with credible allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of minors]

Monsignor Mauricio West (center)

(Monsignor Mauricio West - center)

Channel 9 spoke with Rene Antcil with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who said it all comes down to the bishop.

"He's the holder of the files. He's the keeper of the secrets," Antcil said.

It is unknown at this time how long the diocese knew about the allegations and if West was involved in investigating other claims of misconduct and abuse.

In 2003, when former Charlotte Catholic teacher Mark Doherty was accused of sex abuse, it was West who put out statements.

Attorney Seth Langson said he has represented numerous people in claims against the Charlotte Diocese.

He said the local delegation of the church has a disregard for transparency.

"The number one position is to protect the reputation of the church so that's what they've done," Langson said.

Langson said the Charlotte delegation won't become more transparent unless parishioners demand it.

"It is going to come down to parishioners. If they stop donating, if they hurt them with the dollars, it will change," Langson said.

Antcil said parishioners have a right to know and victims deserve to be heard.

"People who have seen their perpetrator in public be identified, it is like a huge weight has been taken off their shoulders," Antcil said.

There are an estimated 450,000 Catholics in the Charlotte area. Parishioners who spoke to Channel 9 said they were troubled by the allegations against the second most powerful person in the diocese.

"It is distressing of course, but I just hope the church can take care of its problems," Regina Giurintano said. "I do think the church needs to address it. They need to not duck it and I think a little more needs to be said from the pulpit."

Read the full statement from Peter Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte:

"The Diocese of Charlotte announces that Monsignor Mauricio West has stepped down from his position as vicar general and chancellor, effective Monday, March 25, 2019. His departure follows a recent finding by the Lay Review Board of the Diocese of a credible allegation of sexual misconduct.

"The alleged events occurred in the mid-1980s when Monsignor West was the Vice President for Student Affairs at Belmont Abbey College, and involved multiple instances of unwanted overtures toward an adult student over a two-year period. In February, the individual met personally with the Lay Review Board to discuss the allegation.

"Monsignor West has denied the allegation. During a period of counseling and assessment, he will be on a leave of absence from his ministerial duties.

"While the alleged behavior did not constitute sexual abuse and did not involve a minor, it is the strict policy of the Diocese of Charlotte to refer all allegations by known accusers of potential sexual misconduct to the Lay Review Board for investigation. Misconduct includes boundary violations and improper behavior by clergy, lay people and church volunteers involving children and adults.

"Personally, and on behalf of the Catholic Church, I extend our deepest apologies to the victim in this case and pray for all who have suffered from misconduct. The Diocese of Charlotte is committed to taking all necessary steps to root out all inappropriate behavior and to being open and transparent about our handling of all allegations of such conduct."

Belmont Abbey sent Channel 9 the following statement regarding Monsignor West:

"We were sorrowful to learn this week that an allegation of sexual misconduct against Monsignor Mauricio West, a current diocesan priest and former Vice President for Student Affairs at Belmont Abbey College, has been determined to be credible. The misconduct allegedly occurred mid-1980s during Monsignor West's tenure at Belmont Abbey and involved an adult student, who claims to have been a victim of unwanted advances by Monsignor West. 

"Monsignor West has denied the allegations. Nonetheless, we are deeply sorry for the victim and have apologized personally to the individual. Although we cannot undo the past, we are dedicated to preventing such inappropriate behavior in the future. 

"We are thoroughly committed to the prevention of sexual misconduct of any kind. We investigate and remediate all claims according to state and federal laws and provide regular training and education to members of the Abbey community on the prevention of sexual harassment and misconduct. 

"While it is disheartening that a former student and our entire community have been hurt by this allegation, we are committed to honest and transparency in handling all allegations of misconduct. We pray for the healing of all who have suffered from clerical misconduct and remain dedicated to our mission and to the welfare of our students. We have cooperated fully with the Lay Review Board of the Diocese of Charlotte in this matter."

Who is Monsignor Mauricio West? 

Monsignor Mauricio West stepped down Thursday as Vicar General and Chancellor of the Diocese of Charlotte, a role he has held for nearly 25 years.

West was responsible for overseeing the administrative and business operations of the diocese.

Monsignor West was also one of the key leaders on the Board of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte.

Catholic Charities runs three food banks, helps with the area's affordable housing crisis, adoption services, and immigrant and refugee services.

In addition, he served on the Board of Trustees at Queens University, but he resigned on March 21st.

He worked closely with the Charlotte Diocese Schools.

West was also the former Vice President for Student Affairs at Belmont Abbey, where the allegations happened.

Monsignor West received the "Most Distinguished Alumnus" Award from the St. Vincent Seminary near Pittsburgh in 2017.

West has denied the allegations and no criminal charges have been filed. Officials said while he is still a priest, he cannot perform duties.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this developing story.

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