Sex Abuse Allegations Hit S.C. Diocese

By Allison Askins
The State (Columbia, SC)
April 12, 2002

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston is investigating allegations of sexual abuse by either priests or lay people working or volunteering for the church.

Diocesan spokesman John Carroll said Thursday he could not confirm how many investigations are occurring or whether they are allegations brought against priests or lay people.

Staff at several Midlands Catholic parishes declined to comment, referring to the diocese.

The allegations come in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal that is rocking the Roman Catholic Church. A report today in the Charlotte Observer said social service authorities in Charlotte are investigating allegations that two priests abused minors more than 25 years ago.

The Raleigh diocese also has placed a priest on indefinite administrative leave after officials learned he lied when questioned about past arrests for child abuse.

South Carolina is home to 130,000 Roman Catholics and one diocese, which is based in Charleston. The diocese has 56 active priests and more than 650 lay teachers in its four high schools and 25 elementary schools.

Carroll said the S.C. diocese has chosen to stick with its policy of investigating internally before turning charges over to authorities "to avoid a witchhunt mentality."

The internal investigation is being led by a 20-year veteran of law enforcement who acts as an independent consultant to the diocese, he said.

The information is then presented to a committee made up of seven independent professionals and members at-large who advise the bishop as to the credibility of the allegations.

In the past 30 to 40 years, Carroll said 23 priests in the Charleston Diocese have been accused of sexual abuse, and 11 have been removed because of abuse charges.

Among those is Juan Carlos Castano, 44, of Rock Hill who was charged in March with fondling a 5-year-old girl in her Rock Hill home in the fall of 2000. Castano served the Latino communities in Rock Hill, York and Lancaster since 1999.

If found guilty, Castano, who has been suspended from his duties, faces up to 15 years in prison.

Gerald Ryfinski, a former pastor of Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church in Georgetown, pleaded guilty in March to one count of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor that stemmed from his possession of child pornography, Carroll said.

Ryfinski was given a five-year suspended sentence with three years probation, Carroll said.

Also, a lay worker, Charles T. Sullivan, a former basketball coach at Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia, was imprisoned in 1998 after pleading guilty to 32 charges of child molestation.

The latest Carolinas revelations come amid a Catholic church scandal that began in Boston and has since spread across the nation.

In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law is being pressured to resign for his prior role in the case of defrocked priest John Geoghan, who is accused of molesting more than 130 children.

Nationwide, between 1,000 and 1,500 priests have been accused of sexual abuse - about 2 percent of the 60,000 priests who have served since the mid-1980s.


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