Lawsuits Claim Charlotte Diocese Should Have Known Priests Were Child Sex Predators
By Bruce Henderson
April 14, 2020
Two men have sued the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte for their childhood sexual abuse by priests that they claim the diocese knew or should have known were predators.
Both men, who filed their lawsuits without revealing their identities, had previously sued the diocese in 2011 and 2012. Those cases were dismissed in 2014 after the diocese argued that too much time had elapsed since the alleged incidents.
Last November, however, North Carolina legislators opened a two-year window for civil actions over child sexual abuse to be filed regardless of time limitations.
Most victims of child sexual abuse don’t come forward until much later in life, said Sam McGee, the Charlotte attorney representing the two plaintiffs.
In December, the Charlotte diocese released a list of 14 clergy members, most of them retired or dead, who had been “credibly accused” of child abuse while serving the diocese. Both of the priests named in the lawsuits filed Monday were on that list.
“The Diocese of Charlotte is aware of two lawsuits, pertaining to allegations that date back to the 1970s and 1980s, filed Monday by individuals whose claims against the diocese were previously dismissed by the North Carolina courts,” the diocese said in a statement Tuesday.
“We disagree that the diocese is liable to the plaintiffs and will respond to the litigation in court at the appropriate time. The diocese takes allegations of child sexual abuse very seriously and remains committed to providing a safe environment for all people, especially the young and vulnerable.”
Because the diocese is expected to deny negligence in court, McGee said, the list’s publication doesn’t offer accountability to his clients or assurances of how future cases would be handled.
“We hear a lot from the diocese and the Catholic Church about reconciliation and healing and doing better, but it certainly seems to me that hasn’t translated into how they will handle allegations going forward,” McGee said.
One of the lawsuits, filed by “John Doe,” who still lives in North Carolina, claims that former priest Richard Farwell sexually abused him as a minor from 1981 to 1984. The two met while the plaintiff was an altar boy and Farwell a priest at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, it says.
The lawsuit claims the diocese later transferred Farwell to a Salisbury church in an effort to conceal the abuse. Farwell continued to molest the boy even after the boy was sent to live in an orphanage in the N.C. mountains, it says.
The plaintiff has tried to commit suicide at least seven times because of the abuse, the lawsuit says.
Farwell pleaded no contest in 2004 to a misdemeanor charge in Rowan County of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, after the diocese reported the abuse claims to police, the Observer has reported. He is now believed to live in Florida.
The second plaintiff, “John Doe 1K,” who lives in Georgia, named his abuser as Joseph Kelleher, who served Our Lady of Annunciation in Albemarle. The abuse occurred in 1977 and 1978, when the plaintiff was 14, the lawsuit says.
Kelleher, who is now dead, was removed from ministry following the allegations against him.
He was charged in 2010 in Albemarle with one count of taking indecent liberties with a child. A judge in Stanly County dismissed the charge in 2014, saying Kelleher didn’t have the mental capacity to go to trial.
The diocese’s Lay Review Board later found credible other accusations of abuse of minors in the 1970s and 1980s in Charlotte and Hendersonville.
Both lawsuits seek damages of more than $25,000 from the diocese.