Crisis in the Church / Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.
Deacon Was Hired over Law's Objections
By Matt Carroll
February 5, 2003
A deacon who was prevented from becoming a priest in Boston because of "substantial" allegations of sexual misconduct with young boys managed to find work in the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., despite objections from Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who made his concerns clear to the Charlotte bishop.
Deacon Mark C. Doherty, who transferred to Charlotte in the hope of being ordained as a priest, was instead hired in 1997 as a religion teacher at Charlotte Catholic High School, with the endorsement of Bishop William G. Curlin, who told Law he was willing to take a chance.
After inquiries by the Globe, Doherty, 49, was placed on administrative leave yesterday by the high school while the allegations are reviewed by the Charlotte Diocese, according to Monsignor Mauricio W. West, the administrator of the diocese since Curlin's retirement in September. West, in a statement, said Doherty has denied the allegation and poses no threat to children. Doherty said he would not comment.
In 1993, shortly before Doherty's scheduled ordination, two men accused him of molesting them as teens on a 1977 camping trip. Charlotte's statement said Boston "found no substantiating evidence for the allegation."
However, newly released records indicate that Boston church officials found Doherty's accusers persuasive. Law wrote Doherty in 1996 that the archdiocese "determined there was a reasonable probability that sexual misconduct occurred." In church records, Doherty denied molesting the boys, but said there was nude swimming.
A second allegation was made in 1994 by a mother who believed that three of her sons had been molested by Doherty. Charlotte knew of that allegation as well, according to church records.
Boston's handling of Doherty contrasts with some cases involving priests who faced allegations of sexual misconduct and were transferred to other dioceses. Law actively worked against Doherty's transfer, while Curlin repeatedly sought him. Between 1996 and 2001, Curlin wrote four letters to Law about Doherty. Law wrote back four times, sent records on Doherty, and warned the bishop. "I am not in a position to recommend to any bishop that he accept Mr. Doherty in light of the information which I have shared with you," Law wrote in 1997.
In 1999, after Curlin said he wanted to formally bring Doherty into the diocese, Law responded, "I note that you have made your decision with the full knowledge and understanding of what I have communicated to you earlier."
Curlin told Law that Doherty had been successfully teaching at Charlotte Catholic, under the eye of West, since 1997. "Mark is viewed by the school's administration as a committed and very competent catechist who teaches by both word and good example," Curlin wrote in 2001.
Boston church officials were clearly concerned about allowing Doherty to move to Charlotte because the Boston Archdiocese could have faced legal liability if Doherty reoffended. A flurry of memos discusses the implications. In 1997, then-Rev. Richard G. Lennon - the bishop who replaced Law in December - was quoted in a memo to Law as being against the transfer.
The Rev. Michael Smith Foster, the archdiocese's chief canon lawyer, was consulted in 1996 about how a diocese should transfer a priest or deacon.
Foster, who was accused of abuse last year but later reinstated when the charges were found not credible by the church, said it was easiest for Boston to do nothing and Doherty would automatically be transferred to Charlotte.
Officials were also worried about Law's exposure. In August 2001, the Rev. Charles Higgins advised against Law answering a Curlin letter. "Thus, keeping the Cardinal out of the loop concerning the . . . process because of Doherty's past."
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