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Lawsuit alleges Jesuit priest committed sex abuse in North Carolina in the 1990s

November 19, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Charlotte. / Diocese of Charlotte

Denver Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A new lawsuit alleges that a long-serving Jesuit priest sexually abused a boy at a Catholic school in Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1990s. 

The priest’s attorney has rejected the charges as “completely false,” while the Society of Jesus and the local diocese said they are cooperating with investigators.

Attorneys representing the plaintiff, identified only as John Doe J.C., filed the lawsuit Nov. 18 in Mecklenburg County. It names as defendants Father Francis Gillespie, S.J., the Diocese of Charlotte, Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools, and two Jesuit organizations.

Gillespie was ordained in 1972 and is now 79 years old. He was recently serving in the Diocese of Raleigh, but the lawsuit concerns his time as pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Church and School in the Diocese of Charlotte from 1994 to 2001, the Catholic News Herald reports.

Gillespie was removed from public ministry on Sept. 29 and put under supervision while the Jesuit province assists in the investigation.

The alleged victim, now in his early thirties, was a student at the elementary school. His lawsuit said the abuse took place at the church in the mid- to late-1990s, beginning when he was about eight years old. 

The priest allegedly asked him to be an assistant altar server and the boy would leave class early to assist the priest at the Thursday morning weekly Mass for students. The priest allegedly began to abuse him sexually in the sacristy, where the abuse continued regularly until the boy finished elementary school.

The lawsuit alleges “severe physical and emotional damages” including depression, anxiety, mood swings, shame and substance abuse.

One attorney for the alleged victim, Richard Serbin of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, told the Charlotte Observer that he reported the abuse allegations to Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte and a Jesuit leader on Sept. 21, 2021. 

Serbin said his client was, as a child, “fearful to report his abuse and forced to carry this burden alone.”

The lawsuit charges negligence, negligent hiring, retention and supervision, breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud and sexual assault and battery. It was allowed under a North Carolina law creating a special legal window for victims of sexual assault of any age to sue their alleged abuses.

Gillespie’s attorney, James Wyatt, called the allegations “completely false.” Wyatt said his firm planned to file counterclaims against J.C.

“The allegations are completely inconsistent with the life he has led and his devoted service to the ministry,” Wyatt said. “He is highly respected and loved by the parishioners he has served who are rallying around him and steadfastly supporting him.

Gillespie served in North Carolina’s Diocese of Raleigh from 2002-2008, then moved to the Diocese of Charleston in South Carolina. In January 2021 he moved back to the Raleigh diocese. In August the Jesuits named him as administrator at St. Mary Catholic Church in Laurinburg, North Carolina. 

The Charlotte diocese reported the alleged abuse to local police and social services on Sept. 28. The allegation was announced at Masses the weekend of Oct 2-3 and in messages to families of schoolchildren.

The diocese said an independent review of its personnel files and other records found no records of any allegations against the priest.

“The Charlotte diocese has zero tolerance for child sexual abuse, and anyone who has been the victim of abuse is encouraged to seek help and report to law enforcement authorities,” the diocese said in October as reported by the Catholic News Herald.

An officer with the public information office of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the criminal investigation has now been categorized as “exceptionally cleared – victim chose not to prosecute,” the Charlotte Observer reports.

At the time of the alleged abuse, Gillespie was a priest of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. In 2020 that province merged with the Jesuits’ USA Northeast Provinces to form the USA East Province, based in New York.

The USA East Province of the Society of Jesus said in a statement that it “takes seriously any allegation of misconduct in ministry.” The province said it is cooperating with law enforcement and the Diocese of Charlotte “to conduct a thorough investigation that will include examination by an outside review board.”

“The Jesuits remain committed to the highest standards in our conduct of ministry. We encourage anyone who suspects abuse by any clergy or employee of the province to contact local civil authorities and/or the province office,” the province continued. “We continue to pray for the victims of sexual abuse and for those working with us to protect those we serve.”

In the late 80s and early 90s Gillespie served as director of research and executive director at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a research institute on Catholic issues that affiliated with Georgetown University in 1989.


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Lawsuit highlights abuse cover-up allegations against St. Louis archbishop

February 12, 2021 CNA Daily News 1

Denver Newsroom, Feb 12, 2021 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis is accused in a new lawsuit of covering up abuse allegations in his former diocese of Springfield, MA, which he led from 2014 until last year.


The plaintiff claims he suffered trauma as a result of the diocese’s mishandling of an abuse allegation he brought against Christopher J. Weldon, bishop of Springfield from 1950-1977. 


Rozanski has admitted that the diocese mishandled the abuse case, which the plaintiff says he first brought to the diocese’s attention in November 2014.


Pope Francis named Rozanski Archbishop of St. Louis in early June 2020, and he was installed as archbishop that August.

In a lawsuit filed in Hampden County Superior Court in Springfield Jan. 28, an alleged victim named only as John Doe, a former altar boy, alleges that Rozanski and other diocesan officials met his complaint with “deliberate indifference,” which caused him further trauma. 


In part, the suit accuses Rozanski of approving a statement to a local reporter which denied that Weldon had been accused of abuse, despite Doe’s statements to the diocesan review board. 


The plaintiff alleges that Weldon, along with two priests of the Springfield diocese, repeatedly abused him in the 1960s, and that he first remembered his abuse in 2013. Weldon died in 1982. 


Doe also says that while he brought his claim of abuse to two mandated reporters in 2014, those diocesan employees did not bring the allegation to Kevin Murphy— the diocesan investigator— or the local district attorney until 2018. 

Doe claims that he told the diocesan review board directly at a 2018 meeting that Weldon had raped him. 


At least three witnesses and a letter to Doe from the review board supported Doe’s claim that he told the review board about Weldon in 2018, and that the review board acknowledged that Weldon had abused Doe. 

During June 2019, Rozanski commissioned an independent investigation, led by retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis, into the handling of the allegation against Weldon. The 373-page report concluded that Doe’s claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon were “unequivocally credible.”

The suit alleges, however, that public statements by the diocese following the 2018 diocesan review board meeting did not acknowledge the abuse allegation against Weldon. 


A contributing factor is a report delivered to the diocesan review board by Murphy, the diocesan investigator, which appeared to state that Weldon had not himself engaged in abuse. 


Investigator Murphy wrote several reports— four, according to the suit— on the alleged abuse of Doe following an interview with him. 


In two of the four reports, Murphy said the plaintiff “stated that Bishop Weldon never molested him,” but was often present when other priests were abusing Doe, and that Weldon would try to “hug and pull [Doe] within reach.”


The Velis report found that it was this version of the report that was shared with the diocesan review board, despite Doe’s allegation of rape against Weldon at the meeting. The other two reports, which were not shared with the review board, were apparently more clear in accusing Weldon of abusing Doe.


As part of his investigation, Velis was given access to internal diocesan emails, several of which are highlighted in the lawsuit.


In one May 29, 2019 exchange, diocesan communication director Mark Dupont asked Rozanski, review board chairman John Hale, and diocesan lawyer John Eagan for guidance on how to respond to questions from a local reporter. 

The reporter, writing for The Berkshire Eagle, had asked why Weldon was not listed among the diocese’s credibly accused clergy, despite Doe’s allegations against him. 


According to the emails, Egan recommended that Dupont tell the reporter, in part: “The Review Board has never found that Bishop Weldon engaged in improper contact with anyone.”


Rozanski replied to the suggestion from Egan, saying “Yes, thank you. This is a good response.”


In an email exchange the next day, Egan appeared to advise against acknowledging that Weldon was present at any of the instances of abuse, and also advised that the diocese’s statement to the reporter “lead with an allegation of abuse in the 1960s and the victim didn’t recover his memories until around 2017 or 2018.”


Doe says he first recovered his memories of the incident in 2013. 


Dupont subsequently told the Berkshire Eagle: “You should know that there is NO finding of sexual abuse of any person involving Bishop Weldon — NONE.”


For his part, Dupont told CNA last year that the Velis report “had no finding of any cover-up,” and that “our earliest public responses acknowledged Bishop Weldon was allegedly present where the abuse occurred.”

However, Velis said his findings raise questions about whether there was an attempt to conceal the diocesan investigator’s reports about Bishop Weldon from the review board or Bishop Rozanski. It was not the scope of his investigation to determine responsibility for the apparent deceptive practice or “if and when the reports were switched.”


Rozanski told Velis he was not aware of the specifics of Doe’s allegation of abuse by Weldon, and did not know about the different reports about Doe’s allegation produced by the diocesan investigator. Rozanski has said he knew that Weldon was accused of being “present during incidents of abuse that occurred.” 


In June 2020, following the report’s release, Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”

“At almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well to a deep desire for a just response for the terrible abuse which he endured,” the then-archbishop-designate said at a press conference, one year after he commissioned Velis to conduct the investigation.


Weldon is now named on the Springfield diocese website as a “deceased bishop who was found to have credible allegations of abuse.”

Doe is seeking a jury trial, damages, and court costs. 

Both the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Springfield have, to other publications, declined to comment on pending cases.