Lawsuit filed, accusing former Charlotte priest of child sexual abuse in the 1990s

WBTV, CBS-3 [Charlotte NC]

November 18, 2021

By Brandy Beard and Andrew Barnett

The lawsuit alleges abuse by Father Francis P. Gillespie

A lawsuit was filed Thursday, accusing a former Charlotte priest of child sexual abuse. The priest formerly worked at Our Lady of Assumption Elementary School in Charlotte.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys on behalf of plaintiff John Doe J.C., alleges that while Doe was a student at the school, he became friendly with the parish priest, Father Francis P. Gillespie of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

The lawsuit claims Gillespie repeatedly sexually assaulted Doe around 1996-1997, when Doe was reportedly 8 years old. The lawsuit claims the abuse continued through 1999-2000.

According to the lawsuit, the priest often visited the school and allowed Doe to assist him at mass – despite not being an altar boy.

After several weeks of this assistance, the lawsuit claims the priest closed the door to the room the two were in and sexually assaulted Doe for the first time. Doe was allegedly told not to tell anyone.

The lawsuit claims the abuse continued every few weeks until Doe attended middle school.

“Plaintiff kept the abuse to himself initially because of Gillespie’s warning and feelings of helplessness and thereafter due to ongoing feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment,” according to the full complaint.

Defendants listed in the lawsuit include The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools, Maryland Province of Society of Jesus, USA East Province of Society of Jesus and Father Francis P. Gillespie.

“Because he was only 8 years old when the abuse began, and due to his religious upbringing and the teachings of the church and school, John Doe J.C. was fearful to report his abuse and forced to carry this burden alone,” said Doe’s attorney, Richard Serbin, in a prepared statement. “The passage of the Safe Child Act by North Carolina has afforded him and all child sex abuse survivors the opportunity to seek justice. Unfortunately, the ‘window law’ that provides this opportunity for all adults who were sexually molested as children to seek justice closes on December 31, 2021.”

The lawsuit alleges acts of negligence; negligent hiring, supervision, and retention; breach of fiduciary duty; constructive fraud; and sexual assault and battery.Default Mono Sans Mono Serif Sans Serif Comic Fancy Small CapsDefault X-Small Small Medium Large X-Large XX-LargeDefault Outline Dark Outline Light Outline Dark Bold Outline Light Bold Shadow Dark Shadow Light Shadow Dark Bold Shadow Light BoldDefault Black Silver Gray White Maroon Red Purple Fuchsia Green Lime Olive Yellow Navy Blue Teal Aqua OrangeDefault 100% 75% 50% 25% 0%Default Black Silver Gray White Maroon Red Purple Fuchsia Green Lime Olive Yellow Navy Blue Teal Aqua OrangeDefault 100% 75% 50% 25% 0%

Catholic News Herald reported in October that allegations were filed against Gillespie and reported to the Diocese of Charlotte which then went to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

Gillespie was the priest of Our Lady of the Assumption Church and School from 1994 to 2001.

WBTV reached out to the Diocese of Charlotte for a statement regarding the lawsuit. The Diocese responded with the following:

“The Diocese of Charlotte was recently made aware of an allegation of child sexual abuse against Jesuit Father Francis P. Gillespie in Charlotte more than 20 years ago. We reported the allegation to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and the Department of Social Services, and will cooperate fully with any investigation. Fr. Gillespie served as Pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Church and School in Charlotte from 1994 to 2001. His supervising religious order, the Jesuits, assigned him to ministry in the Diocese of Raleigh in 2002. The Jesuits removed Fr. Gillespie from ministry on Sept. 29 while the allegation is investigated, which is standard procedure under the Church’s 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and should not imply guilt. An independent review of our personnel and other files in 2019 found no record of allegations from anyone against Gillespie. The Charlotte diocese has zero tolerance for child sexual abuse and we encourage anyone who has been the victim of abuse to seek help and report to authorities. We also pray for peace and healing for abuse victims and their families and communities.”

The Diocese of Charlotte also stated that they did alert Our Lady of Assumption parishioners over the weekend of Oct. 2-3 and also informed Our Lady of Assumption school families of the allegations. The Diocese of Charlotte stated that Father Gillespie was a religious order priest, assigned to Charlotte by his supervising community (the Jesuits,) and that their historical file review found no record of allegations from anyone against Father Gillespie. (which is why Gillespie was not on the diocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of child sex abuse).

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