N.C. School Says It Was Told of Charge
May 18, 2002
The head of a Catholic college in North Carolina acknowledged yesterday that the Archdiocese of Boston did inform him of an allegation of inappropriate behavior against a priest seeking a teaching job at the school.
Abbot Placid Solari, of Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte, said yesterday that the Boston Archdiocese had told him that an "allegation of improper conduct" had been lodged against the Rev. George Berthold while he was a dean at St. John's Seminary in Boston.
School officials earlier this week said that the Boston Archdiocese told them nothing about the allegation before the college hired Berthold in 1997 to head its theology department.
Solari's statement on what the college was told left unanswered one key question, whether Boston church officials explained that Berthold had been fired as seminary dean because of the allegation.
"The only written documentation received by Belmont Abbey College that I was aware of as academic dean at the time, came in the letters of recommendation indicating that Father Berthold is a priest in good standing with the Boston Archdiocese," Solari stated. "On this basis, I, as academic dean of the college made the decision to hire Father Berthold."
However, Solari said that he had learned of the allegation against Berthold in telephone conversations with archdiocesan officials in Boston. "On the basis of information supplied to me at that time, it was my judgment that the allegation was not considered serious and there was no credible reason to assume that Father Berthold would not be a suitable teacher," Solari said.
Berthold's resume stated that he had held the position of dean of the seminary school in 1995-1996. But Berthold was suspended and then dismissed as dean of the seminary's college of liberal arts in November 1995. A 19-year-old seminarian accused Berthold of making improper advances toward him, including kissing him on the lips.
Despite Berthold's dismissal as dean, Law recommended to Belmont Abbey administrators that he be hired as a professor and chairman of the college's theology department. Donna Morrissey, spokeswoman for the Boston Archdiocese, defended Law's handling of the case Wednesday, saying that the church had provided Charlotte officials "verbally and in writing" with information that Berthold had been accused of inappropriate physical behavior with adult seminarians. However, she declined to provide specifics or make public the documents.
A Boston church official, who asked not to be identified, told The Globe on Thursday that the archdiocese had written "two allegations involving adults" on the form that it had filled out to facilitate Berthold's application for the teaching job at Belmont Abbey.
However, the application form did not state that Berthold had lost his job as dean, which he had held for only two months, because of the incident, the official said. Asked why the archdiocese would not make that information known while recommending Berthold for a teaching position, the official, who had reviewed Berthold's file, said Boston church officials probably wanted to give Berthold another chance to lead a productive life.
"This had nothing to do with minors, and from everything we knew it involved improper physical advances, not rape," the official said of the charges against Berthold. "I'm sure it wouldn't happen now, but at the time it would have been seen as the right thing to do."
At a deposition Thursday, the Rev. Charles J. Higgins, Law's chief delegate for handling allegations of sexual abuse, was asked if the Boston Archdiocese had a policy in 1995 of fully disclosing allegations of misconduct to other dioceses where a Boston priest might be transferred.
"Not that I am aware of," Higgins said, adding that such a policy has since been established.
A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest who has written several books on clergy sexual abuse, said the lack of an established policy allowed priests with accusations on their record to be moved from one location to another.
To protect themselves from possible negative publicity over the practice, home dioceses would say little or nothing about the allegations on the official transfer form, but spell out the problems in unofficial letters and phone calls, Sipe said.
"This allowed both dioceses to deny they had done anything wrong if a scandal erupted," Sipe said.
Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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