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  Abbot Admits He Had Heard of Allegations
Sexual Misconduct Claim Revealed before Boston Priest Hired

By Joe Depriest
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
May 18, 2002

The head of Belmont Abbey College, Abbot Placid Salari, acknowledged Friday he had been told about allegations of sexual misconduct by a Boston priest before he hired the priest to teach at the college.

Earlier this week, college spokeswoman Teresa Sowers McKinney had said the college had no knowledge of allegations against the Rev. George Berthold before he was hired. The priest taught 10 theology classes during his 15-month stint at the Abbey, which ended in October 1998 after additional allegations of prior sexual misconduct surfaced.

Salari, who was academic dean when Berthold was hired in 1997, said in a written statement Friday that the only written documentation he got from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston about Berthold was that he was a priest in good standing.

Salari said he'd heard rumors about improper conduct by Berthold, though, and checked his references.

"The Archdiocese of Boston did disclose to me in conversation by telephone in the late spring or early summer of 1997 that an allegation of improper conduct had been made against Father Berthold while he had been teaching at the seminary school at St. John's (Seminary in Brighton, Mass.) and that this had been investigated," Salari said in a written statement issued Friday by the college.

Salari said he concluded the allegation was not considered serious and there was no reason to assume Berthold wouldn't be a suitable teacher.

"Furthermore, the Archdiocese of Boston indicated that Father Berthold was very well-suited for undergraduate teaching at Belmont Abbey College, that they would recommend him for this position, and that he was an active priest in the Archdiocese of Boston," Salari said.

On Thursday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte acknowledged it allowed Berthold to serve even though it knew he had been accused of sexual misconduct involving an adult.

The Charlotte Diocese statement came a day after it insisted the Boston Archdiocese did not give the diocese any information that should have prevented Berthold from being hired.

Salari said he'd only learned this week that the Archdiocese of Boston supplied written documentation about the earlier accusations against Berthold to the Charlotte Diocese. He said that information was passed along in confidence to then-Abbot Oscar Burnett, who couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

"Although this documentation was not shared with me while I was academic dean, I have now learned that it does reflect continued support from the Archdiocese of Boston in the hiring of Father Berthold as a professor of theology," Salari said in the statement.

Salari said that spokeswoman McKinney responded to questions about Berthold in good faith based on information supplied to her at the time.

Berthold was recalled during his third semester at the Abbey after a second allegation of misconduct surfaced, this time involving a minor 25 years earlier, according to The Boston Globe. There were never any reports of improper conduct by Berthold while he was teaching at Belmont Abbey, Salari said.

Scott Biedrycki, vice chairman of the Belmont Abbey board of trustees, said he'd talked with Salari on Friday and was satisfied with his explanation.

"I think it was an honest miscommunication between the abbot and director of public relations," Biedrycki said.

He said the board of trustees will discuss the issue at its regular meeting June 14.

Belmont Abbey College is in the Charlotte Diocese but is considered an independent institution.

 
 

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