New Charlotte Bishop Installed; Promises to Confront Sexual Abuse

Star-News [Charlotte NC]
Downloaded October 26, 2003

Even before Bishop Peter Jugis was installed Friday as spiritual leader of 140,000 Roman Catholics in the Charlotte Diocese, he was confronted with the sexual abuse issue that has destroyed trust in the church for many.

The controversy wasn't mentioned at the colorful Mass at St. Matthew Catholic Church, but the issue was raised for the new bishop Thursday by the founder of a small Charlotte group of Catholics whose members say they have been sexually abused by priests. In a letter he delivered to the diocese office, David Fortwengler of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) called on Jugis to help reach out to victims and protect children.

Fortwengler said he wants the diocese to help promote SNAP meetings in its Catholic newspaper, divulge the names of lay review board members who hear cases of allegations and appoint a sexual abuse victim to the board.

Fortwengler, 46, said he was molested by his family's priest 35 years ago in Maryland.

Since he started the group in August, up to eight victims and supporters have been attending meetings. The Charlotte chapter is one of 56 SNAP groups in the country lobbying Catholic leaders to more aggressively seek out abusive priests.

"Many of us have suffered in silence, alone, for decades," Fortwengler said in his letter to Jugis. "We know how important it is for victims to come forward, for our own personal healing and to protect other children. Therefore, we ask your help."

Through diocese spokesman Kevin Murray, Jugis said Friday he hasn't had a chance yet to look at Fortwengler's letter. In a written response to a newspaper question after he was named in August to succeed Bishop William Curlin, Jugis said the diocese will continue to respond "without delay whenever there is an allegation of sexual abuse."

During Curlin's eight years as bishop, several cases surfaced in which priests and other men accused of sexual misconduct were allowed to work in the diocese. Curlin retired last year at age 75. Fortwengler said he has spoken with several abuse victims who said they were "absolutely disgusted" by the way the diocese handled their cases.


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