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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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News Briefs

Australian Catholic bishops establish new agency to fight abuse

December 3, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 12:23 am (CNA).- On Thursday, the Catholic bishops of Australia and two other Catholic entities launched Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited, a company charged with the safeguarding of children against sexual abuse by clergy.

The launch of the agency comes three years after the release of a 2017 Royal Commission report on child sex abuse in the country’s institutions. The new agency was created by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) and the Association of Ministerial PJPs (Public Juridic Persons).

“We have discerned what was working well and what needed to change, and we are convinced this new national agency will make the Church’s work more coordinated, accountable and best prepared to ensure the safety of people in Catholic settings,” CRA president Br. Peter Carroll FMS said in a December 3 statement marking the launch.

The new agency, also known as ACSL, “will reduce duplication and consolidate work previously undertaken by Catholic Professional Standards Limited, the Implementation Advisory Group and the Australian Catholic Centre for Professional Standards,” the statement noted.

According to a fact sheet on the ACSL, while it is “hoped” that all Australian Catholic entities will subscribe to the new group, it will not be mandatory. Those entities that subscribe to the ACSL will be expected to comply with its safeguarding standards, conduct reviews and audits of their abuse prevention systems at least every three years, and provide ACSL with a copy of their reviews, which will be published on the ACSL’s website.

The establishment of the ACSL is one of many reforms being made by the Church in Australia after the release of the Royal Commission report, which found serious failings in the protection of children from abuse in the Catholic Church and other major secular and religious institutions.

Other changes made in the wake of the report include a program to compensate victims, and an obligation on the part of clergy and religious to report abuse accusations to their local ordinary or metropolitan archbishop.

The Australian bishops’ conference responded positively to nearly all the Royal Commission’s recommendations, but has defended the sanctity of the confessional seal.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic bishop’s conference, said that the safeguarding agency was established after an extensive consultation process with people both inside and outside of the Church, including abuse survivors and their advocates.

“Australian Catholic Safeguarding Limited will build on the strong work of the previous bodies, including in demanding accountability of Catholic entities and in requiring independent audits and reviews of adherence to the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards,” he said.

Eva Skira is the chair of Association of Ministerial PJPs, a group whose members include canonical stewards of Church ministries in areas such as education, health care, disability and social services.

Skira said the group supported the creation of the new agency and is “deeply committed to child protection and safeguarding in our various contexts.”

“We are very pleased to be collaborators with the Bishops Conference and CRA, which have made significant progress in recent years,” Skira added.

Carroll said the inclusion of the Association of Ministerial PJPs in the creation of the safeguarding agency would help to extend its impact into more broadly Catholic contexts.

“Our focus must always be on the safety of all those who come into contact with the Church,” he said.


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