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  Diocese Cites 'Mistake' Regarding Priest
Says He Should Have Been Removed Sooner from Job in Charlotte

By Ken Garfield
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
February 24, 2004

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte said Monday it made a mistake in allowing a priest to stay on the job for 16 months after learning he had been investigated following accusations of sexually molesting minors.

The Rev. Gregory Littleton, 42, was removed from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church on Friday after diocese officials found accusations against him "credible," according to acting diocese spokesman David Hains.

On Oct. 2, 2002, the Charlotte diocese was notified in writing that Catholic leaders in Metuchen, N.J., had turned over information on accusations of sexual misconduct by Littleton to the local prosecutor's office.

"Based on what we know now, we made a mistake in 2002," Hains told the Observer. "Of course we regret a mistake. We made what we felt was a sound decision (in 2002). The rules have changed."

Littleton, 42, has denied the allegations and said he never abused a child. He has never been charged. No decision has been made on who will lead the parish of 670 families. Hains said Littleton had not been accused of any misconduct since arriving in the Charlotte diocese from Metuchen, N.J., diocese in 1997.

Hains said current policy gives diocese leaders more leeway in responding to information about possible sexual abuse by priests. In 2002, he said, a bishop needed a specific allegation to take action against a priest - something the diocese felt it did not have in connection with Littleton.

"We knew there were questions," Hains said. "But it didn't rise up to the level of the information we needed."

Middlesex County, N.J., prosecutor Julia McClure said her office investigated Littleton in connection with what she called "inappropriate conduct" with more than one minor. She said he was one of more than 20 priests and other Catholic religious figures her office investigated between August 2002 and mid-May 2003.

McClure said no charges were brought against Littleton. "We didn't have witnesses that were willing to participate in a criminal investigation," she said.

Bishop Peter Jugis, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, is referring questions to Hains. Jugis is to speak generally about the sexual abuse scandal during the Ash Wednesday Mass at Charlotte's St. Patrick Cathedral, 1621 Dilworth Road East.

Hains said the diocese today has a new policy and a new sensitivity toward abuse.

"Hindsight is 20-20," he said, referring to the 2002 decision to allow Littleton to remain in the church. "If we had gotten this fax today, he would have been removed immediately. But two years ago, we had a different policy."

 
 

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