Charlotte Diocese Paid in Sex-Abuse Case

News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)
April 15, 2002

Winston-Salem — The Charlotte Diocese used its money and insurance funds to pay Watauga County parents who accused a Catholic priest of sexually abusing their twin sons, according to published reports.

The priest was reassigned to a church in Charlotte after a complaint regarding one of the boys in 1996, then removed from duty after the family filed a lawsuit including the other boy three years later, The Winston-Salem Journal reported Sunday.

The family came forward after Bishop William Curlin had priests throughout the Charlotte diocese read their congregations a letter last month in which he declared "zero tolerance for child sex abuse."

He wrote that diocesan funds had never gone to another diocese to pay for pedophile cases, but neglected to mention payments within the diocese made to Martin and Melissa Corts, who alleged that their priest at St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in Boone had fondled their twin sons when they were in their early teens.

According to court records, the diocese paid the Cortses $ 77,489 in 1996 on behalf of their son Gabriel. A second payment of an undisclosed amount came three years later after the family filed a lawsuit charging that the priest, the Rev. Damion Lynch, had also abused the boy's twin brother.

"We have used both diocesan funds and insurance proceeds to help meet the personal needs of victims," Joann Keane, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said last week.

Curlin's statement to the Catholic congregations was not a case of deliberate omission, she said. Curlin was "not mindful" of the $ 77,489 payment made in 1996, two years after he became bishop.

The family discussed the case, saying they hoped to help other people who have been abused to come forward. Martin Corts said Sunday that those guilty in the church should "fess up" immediately.

"You better get with the picture and come out and tell the truth," he said. "You better start guarding your door because these are innocent people you're playing with. We're all still dealing with it."

As a parish priest, Lynch often visited with the Corts family, and their sons sometimes spent the night at Lynch's rectory. Gabriel Corts said he was repeatedly fondled, but has trouble recalling more. His twin, Seth Corts, also said he has hazy memories of being fondled.

"I'm in therapy for it," he said, "and we're trying to get to a place where I can actually really bring that out and basically bring closure to it."

The Corts hadn't initially intended to file a lawsuit against the church, but they felt they had no other choice when their needs weren't met.

Our case "wasn't always greeted with candor and honesty" by the church, Martin Corts said. "You've got to pull teeth. How the hell are you going to heal if you're not going to tell the truth about it? It's nuts."

Martin Corts said he left St. Elizabeth's over the way the case was handled, but recently returned. His wife and sons, who are 25 and live in Charleston, S.C., have left the denomination.

The father said he's concerned that money given to the church will be used to pay for pedophile cases. "I give to other organizations," he said. "I don't give to the diocesan appeal or the church. It's one of the main weapons that people have to make the church listen."


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