Professor: Somebody 'Lied' on Priest's Past
N.C. College Hired Boston Cleric in 1997 Not Knowing He'd Been Fired
Belmont Abbey Officials Will Take 'Closer Look' at Applicants' Background
By Ken Garfield
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
May 16, 2002
The Belmont Abbey College professor who chaired the committee that hired the Rev. George Berthold in 1997 expressed outrage Wednesday that no one told them he had been dismissed less than two years earlier for having improper contact with a 19-year-old seminarian.
Janette Blandford said Berthold told the search committee he was interested in moving from St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Mass., to the Gaston County college because he wanted a warmer climate.
Blandford said she didn't know until she picked up the newspaper Wednesday that now-embattled Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston had dismissed Berthold from St. John's Seminary in 1995 - and then assured the Gaston County college in writing that he had an unblemished record.
"Considering everything else that has happened in the church, I'm outraged," said Blandford, who chairs Belmont Abbey's philosophy department. "The circle just widens. I can't believe it would extend right down to here. Somebody flat-out lied."
Abbey spokeswoman Teresa Sowers McKinney said Berthold was released from his contract after Belmont Abbey was notified in the fall of 1998 that he was no longer in good standing as a priest.
Belmont Abbey will tighten screening procedures and check out incoming priests more closely in light of the news about Berthold, she said, including making follow-up phone calls on letters of good standing from archdioceses.
"We'd do that at the very least and ask more questions if need be," McKinney said. "In the future, we'll really take a closer look at letters. This is just unfortunate. We're disappointed and saddened."
No complaints of sexual misconduct were made against Berthold while he was there, she said. She also said there have been no charges of sexual misconduct by Abbey faculty.
From the fall of 1997 to October 1998, Berthold taught 10 theology courses.
Blandford said the committee that hired him was impressed by his charm, credentials and world travels. Also, she said, "We were desperate to get a theologian."
Though she never heard any allegations regarding his behavior, Blandford said she heard complaints from students about his teaching - and in turn, heard Berthold complain about the quality of Belmont Abbey students.
Blandford said she didn't know until now why Berthold had been dismissed from the Abbey.
Two months after Berthold became dean of St. John's undergraduate college, he was accused of making improper advances toward a freshman, including kissing him on the lips. He was also accused in 2000 of molesting a boy three decades ago in Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe.
Since 1999, the Boston archdiocese has listed Berthold as "unassigned." Reached in New Hampshire by the Boston Globe, Berthold, 67, refused comment.
McKinney said the college recently conducted sexual harassment classes for administration, faculty and staff.
A Catholic priest, Berthold wasn't a Benedictine monk or part of the Abbey's monastery. He lived in Charlotte instead of at the Abbey campus 14 miles west of Charlotte, McKinney said.
The college has 872 students, and 43 full-time faculty members, six of whom are monks.
Kevin Graham, a junior, said he didn't want to see the Abbey hurt by the revelations about Berthold.
"This is not a reflection of the Abbey or what the Abbey stands for," said Graham, 25, of Gastonia.
In an unrelated development, a seventh case of alleged sexual misconduct has been reported by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
Diocese spokeswoman Joann Keane said Wednesday that an accusation against a religious brother who has since died has been turned over to civil authorities in the county where it allegedly occurred. The case is from the 1980s.
A religious brother is a member of a religious community who takes vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. They serve the church in several ways, but they are not ordained and can not preside over Mass.
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