Vatican to hear final appeal of former pastor removed from St. Matthew Catholic Church

Charlotte Observer [Charlotte NC]

January 23, 2023

By Michael Gordon

The legal fight behind the walls of the Vatican over the pastorship of Charlotte’s largest Catholic church has reached its end game.

Rev. Patrick Hoare, who was removed as spiritual head of massive St. Matthew Church based on allegations of misconduct involving young people, has filed his final appeal to reverse the 2020 decision by Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte.

While the Diocese of Charlotte previously has acknowledged that its investigation of Hoare had not revealed any incidents of sexual abuse of young people, his odds of reversing his removal appear small.

Hoare (pronounced HAR) already has lost two overseas appeals — the most recent in November, when the Vatican’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, ruled that the priest’s challenge to his suspension was “manifestly lacking in foundation” and “must be dismissed,” according to a letter Jugis sent to St Matthew’s families this past weekend.

Hoare has since appealed to a larger panel of the Vatican court, which, according to the bishop’s letter, is the former pastor’s last legal move. When the court will next rule is unclear, Jugis wrote.

In July 2021, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Clergy likewise sided with Jugis’s removal of Hoare as pastor, finding that the diocese “sufficiently demonstrated grave and lasting cause” for its decision.

Jugis placed Hoare on administrative leave in December 2019 based on decades-old allegations of sexual abuse of a minor that arose in Pennsylvania, a decision that continues to draw criticism from some of Hoare’s former parishioners.

Hoare has said the sexual allegations are untrue. The alleged incident occurred before he became a priest.

In a letter to St. Matthew parishioners in July 2020, Jugis acknowledged that a diocesan review board, while concluding that some of the allegations against Hoare were credible, had found “no specific incident of sexual abuse of a minor” by the priest.

Jugis did say the review board had considered three complaints of inappropriate physical contact with minors — a hug, rubbing shoulders or the stomach — and found that the priest’s “very touchy” behavior “represented boundary violations that raised questions about Father Hoare’s judgment.”

The incidents allegedly occurred at St. Matthew, one of the country’s largest Catholic parishes, and St. John Neumann in east Charlotte, where Hoare also served.

Jugis formally removed Hoare as pastor in December 2020.

At that time, Jugis said Hoare “had repeatedly been the subject of complaints from the faithful that he failed to live up to contemporary standards of conduct with minors” — complaints that had followed him from parish to parish since Hoare became a priest in 2007, the bishop wrote.

Hoare could not be reached for comment Monday. He remains on administrative leave “without an ecclesiastical assignment,” according to Jugis’ weekend letter. Hoare continues to anchor a podcast, Daily Reflections, on Catholic teachings.

The unusual legal fight over Hoare’s standing has played out against continued worldwide outrage toward reports of rampant sexual abuse of children by priests and other Catholic leaders.

In June, the FBI announced a criminal investigation into decades of child abuse within the Diocese of New Orleans.

In November, the church named Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard as one of 11 serving or former French bishops accused of cases linked to abuse. In a statement, Ricard said he had abused a 14-year-old girl when he was a parish priest 35 years ago and would withdraw from his functions.

In 2019, the Charlotte Diocese, which was created in 1972 and serves 46 counties across western North Carolina, released a list of 14 clergy members credibly accused of child abuse over the last 50 years.

Michael Gordon has been the Observer’s legal affairs writer since 2013. He has been an editor and reporter at the paper since 1992, occasionally writing about schools, religion, politics and sports. He spent two summers as “Bikin Mike,” filing stories as he pedaled across the Carolinas.