The State [Columbia SC]
August 7, 2021
By Simone Jasper
A South Carolina churchgoer said a Catholic priest used his position of power to groom her for sex.
The priest knew the woman was having marital problems and “exploited this knowledge” when he engaged in “sexual behavior” in 2020 and 2021, according to a lawsuit the churchgoer filed Wednesday.
Now, the priest is on administrative leave as leadership shifts in his Greenville congregation, according to Maria Aselage, a Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston spokesperson.
“We have received a copy of the lawsuit and are currently reviewing it,” Aselage said in a written statement.“We will respond to the pleading in due time.”
A Facebook user believed to be the priest didn’t immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment Friday.
The woman — who McClatchy News isn’t identifying due to the sensitive nature of the allegations — in her lawsuit said she is a devout Catholic who attended churches in Greenville and Orangeburg. As she tried to learn more about her faith, she said she turned to the priest named in the lawsuit for guidance.
“His counseling reached into secular matters wholly unrelated to any type of ecclesiastical activity,” the court document said. “At first, he would kiss her on the cheek and hug her tightly after Mass.”
The woman said the priest continued to groom her, eventually asking her to visit him in the Greenville church’s rectory. That’s where the two had a sexual encounter, according to the lawsuit.
The priest is also accused of pushing the churchgoer to meet with him during business trips to Columbia, and she says he spent the diocese’s money on hotel rooms where they could have sex.
In addition to accusing the priest, the lawsuit also alleges the diocese and its bishop should have known he “had sexual propensities and was prone to groom and exploit vulnerable parishioners for his own sexual desires.”
Traditionally, Catholic priests are celibate and don’t marry in an effort to serve as representations of Jesus, according to Christianity Today. In some cases, priests can remain married if they converted to Catholicism from another denomination.
In the South Carolina case, the churchgoer is suing for negligence, “infliction of emotional distress,” breach of duties and conspiracy.