Priest Removed after Abuse Claim

By Ken Garfield
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
March 2, 2004

Another priest has been removed from a Charlotte parish after being accused of sexually abusing a minor before coming to North Carolina in 1998.

The Rev. Patrick Leonard was removed last September from St. John Neumann Catholic Church over the accusation. Michael Dolan, a spokesman for the Augustinian Friars order to which Leonard belongs, told the Observer on Monday that the allegation, made in August 2003, was "credible."

The reason for Leonard's departure was formally shared for the first time this weekend with parishioners of St. John Neumann Catholic Church through a statement read aloud at Mass.

Dolan would not divulge details of the accusation, including where or when the alleged incident occurred. He said Leonard, 56, has been removed from public ministry and is undergoing psychological treatment outside North Carolina, though he officially remains a priest.

Leonard has not been charged with a crime. David Hains, acting spokesman for the Charlotte Diocese, said there was no evidence of sexual misconduct against minors by Leonard during his five years in Charlotte.

Dolan said one Charlotte accusation was reported by an adult after Leonard had been removed from St. John Neumann. A female parishioner at the church told the Rev. Donald Reilly of the Augustinian Friars in Villanova, Pa., that Leonard had made lewd comments to her. She was told to put the allegation in writing or to contact authorities if she thought Leonard's behavior was "in any way abusive," as Dolan put it.

"To our knowledge," Dolan said, "she has done neither."

Leonard was an associate priest at St. John Neumann, serving under the leader of the parish, the Rev. Thomas Meehan.

Dolan said the 1,800 families at St. John Neumann on Idlewild Road were not told for more than five months why Leonard left because "the (alleged) victim wanted it to be held confidential."

Part of the statement read to parishioners addressed the issue of not saying anything until now:

"While the matter was under investigation, it was the judgment of our Province not to disclose any information publicly that was false or potentially harmful to persons involved. No complaints have been registered with the Diocese or the Province about Father Pat. We do understand, however, the questions concerning Father Pat's leaving - and the lack of information that could be shared. Our struggle in these matters is to preserve the values of truth and safety with appropriate confidentiality."

After leaving Charlotte, Leonard shared a letter with the congregation in which he thanked everyone for their prayers, cards and notes. While not detailing why he left, Leonard wrote, "As I begin a new venture in my life, please keep me in your prayers."

News of the reason behind Leonard's departure follows the Rev. Gregory Littleton's removal Feb. 20 from Charlotte's Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church. Littleton was removed after Charlotte Diocese officials found accusations against him in another diocese to be "credible," according to spokesman Hains.

The Charlotte Diocese, as part of a nationwide survey, reported Friday 13 priests have been accused of 18 incidents of sexual misconduct since 1972. Two priests were exonerated.


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