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  Priest Removed over N.J. Sex Abuse Cases
Charlotte Pastor Denies Allegations from Early '90s

By Ken Garfield
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
February 21, 2004

A Charlotte priest was removed from ministry Friday over allegations he sexually abused minors in the early 1990s in New Jersey.

The Rev. Gregory Littleton, 42, resigned from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church after officials in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte found the accusations "credible," according to acting diocese spokesman David Hains.

No one connected with the case would divulge details of the allegations against Littleton.

The parish on Shamrock Drive is one of the state's most ethnically diverse, with blacks, whites, Africans and Vietnamese among its 670 families.

Hains told The Observer that Littleton has not been accused of any allegations since arriving in the Charlotte diocese from the Metuchen, N.J., diocese in 1997. He served two small parishes in Western North Carolina before coming to Our Lady of the Assumption.

Contacted by phone at his Charlotte home beside the church on Friday, Littleton denied the allegations and said he has never abused a child.

Littleton said he wasn't aware of any allegations against him until he was told of them Friday morning by Charlotte diocese officials. He said he is seeking legal counsel to help figure out his next step.

Hains said Charlotte officials were not aware of the New Jersey allegations until last week, when they received a call from Bishop Paul Bootkoski of Metuchen, the diocese where the allegations were first made. According to Hains, Bootkoski told Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis that Littleton's name had been listed among priests who have been investigated for sexually abusing minors - part of a nationwide audit of abuse cases in the U.S. Catholic church to be released on Friday.

But Ronald Rak, general secretary of the Metuchen diocese, said his office notified the Charlotte diocese of the case involving Littleton on Oct. 2, 2002.

"The fax on Oct. 2, 2002, contained a summary of the information that was handed over that day to the Middlesex County prosecutor," Rak said.

Littleton was not charged in New Jersey. "No one would come forward to testify," Rak said. Julia McClure, an assistant prosecutor in Middlesex County who worked on the case, was unavailable on Friday.

Hains said the diocese took the 2002 fax to be a summary of the 1997 report in which Littleton was listed as a priest in good standing upon his appointment to Charlotte. He said the diocese found nothing new in the 2002 fax. "We just couldn't see taking any action at that point," he said.

The Charlotte Diocese in October 2002 was led by Monsignor Mauricio West, who was named administrator after then-Bishop William Curlin retired the month before.

Since 1972, said acting spokesman Hains, fewer than a dozen priests in the diocese have been removed from active ministry over sexual abuse allegations.

The Charlotte diocese is home to 140,000 Catholics in 46 counties in the western half of North Carolina. It is expected to release a detailed accounting of sexual abuse cases against priests in the diocese on Friday - the same day U.S. bishops release a national report.

Jugis is scheduled to speak at Mass at 5:30 p.m. today and 8:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday at Our Lady of the Assumption, which also is home to a K-5 school.

Jugis declined to comment Friday. In a letter addressed to "Brother Priests" in the diocese, he asked for them to "join me in prayer for the victims of abuse and for Father Littleton, his family and the parish community of Our Lady of the Assumption."

In a letter sent home to parents Friday, Principal Patricia Murphy of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic School reported the news to parents and wrote, "Father Littleton has been professional and respectful in his interactions with the children and staff at our school."

As word began spreading across the congregation, shock ruled.

"Oh no," said Mint Hill's Bernie Weigold, 63, a member of Our Lady of the Assumption for more than 25 years. "Of all people, I never would have suspected, not even remotely."

Weigold said Littleton had a gift for comforting the bereaved during funerals, and for trying to comfort anyone in need.

"If he had a fault," said Weigold, "it was in trying to serve everybody."

A N.J. native, Littleton became a priest in 1990. In an Observer story in May 2002 about Catholics remaining loyal to their church despite the sexual abuse scandal, he spoke passionately about the need to clean up what he called "a large mess."

"There's a lot of hurt out there," he said.

 
 

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