Bishop Put in Good Word for Priest Accused in '99
Sex-Abuse Allegation on Cleric Wasn't Reported to Authorities or Employer

By Ken Garfield Diane Suchetka
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
April 19, 2002

Charlotte Bishop William Curlin wrote a letter on behalf of an N.C. priest a year after the priest had been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.

Curlin, head of the 46-county Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, sent a letter of reference for Richard Farwell to Food for the Poor in Deerfield Beach, Fla., before Farwell started work in August 2000. The year before, a minor had accused Farwell, still considered part of the Charlotte Diocese, of sexual misconduct in North Carolina.

"It said he was a faithful pastor and a priest in good standing," said Angel Aloma, the charity's executive vice president, who declined to furnish a copy of the letter to The Observer because he said it's part of a private personnel file.

Curlin was not available for comment Thursday. Diocese spokesperson Joann Keane said the letter of reference was written after the diocese concluded that the 1999 allegation "was not credible."

"Even though the charge has not been verified, the allegation has been re-reported and, under the stricter interpretation of the policy, it has to be reported (to civil authorities)," Keane said. "This is how seriously the diocese takes all allegations. Zero tolerance."

The diocese did not report the 1999 allegation to civil authorities because the accuser did not want to go public, she said.

"The policy didn't require (reporting) it at that time," Keane said. "The policy said that it (the allegation) had to be deemed credible. Our policy in 1999 was different than it is now."

Under present policy, amended earlier this year, the diocese is to "report, or direct the reporting of the incident to the proper civil authority."

Keane said the Charlotte diocese placed Farwell, 54, on administrative leave this week pending the outcome of an investigation into an allegation contained in a letter the diocese received Monday.

he letter came from the family of the minor who first came forward in 1999. The letter reiterates the claim.

Farwell was fired Monday from his current job seeking major financial gifts for a South Florida charity that provides aid to the Caribbean and Central America. Aloma said Farwell was fired as soon as he could no longer work as a priest - a necessary part of the job.

Keane said the diocese reported the accusation against Farwell on Monday to the Department of Social Services in the county where the incident was alleged to have occurred. State law requires such a report.

The diocese reported that the alleged incident occurred 19 years ago and involved sexual misconduct with a minor. The Charlotte Diocese defines sexual misconduct as "the touching of a private part of another person" or "Any conduct and/or relationship of a sexual nature that can bring scandal." Keane did not give details of the reported incident, including where it took place.

Farwell, who lives in Broward County, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, did not return several telephone calls Wednesday and Thursday.

His most recent assignment in the Charlotte Diocese was serving as priest at St. Dorothy Catholic Church in Lincolnton.

Farwell's case marks the fourth time in eight days that the Roman Catholic Church in North Carolina has removed a priest from official duties because of allegations of sexual misconduct.

In a news conference Thursday, the bishop of Raleigh said he had placed the Rev. James Behan of Immaculate Conception Church in Wilmington on administrative leave after receiving what he called "a credible allegation" concerning abusive behavior.

The leave was ordered Wednesday after church leaders received a phone call Tuesday afternoon from a man who said he was sexually abused by Behan almost 25 years ago, according to a spokesman for the diocese. The man making the allegation against Behan lives in Florida now and says the abuse took place when he was a teen-ager in Pennsylvania, where Behan was a priest at the time.

"We really and truly are going to do all that we need to do or should do to investigate it and find out what happened," Raleigh Bishop Joseph Gossman said. "I'd be very sorry to learn that there are more, but I would rather have them come forth now and get it over with than to be dealing with this God knows for how long."

The Rev. Jim O'Neill was removed last Friday from St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Greensboro over what officials called inappropriate sexual behavior in another state.

On April 11, the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh announced that the priest of two small Eastern North Carolina parishes was placed on indefinite administrative leave after officials determined he lied when questioned about past arrests. The Rev. Francis Perry, 57, was charged 15 years ago with taking indecent liberties with a minor. The charge was dropped when the victim refused to testify. The diocese said he was arrested in an incident with a 4-year-old female relative 41 years ago, when Perry was a youth.

In addition, the Raleigh diocese, which covers the eastern half of North Carolina, has received, since Easter, accusations of sexual misconduct against three other priests. All of the alleged offenses reportedly occurred about 20 years ago or more.

The Charlotte Diocese also is investigating allegations against two former priests dating back to 1973 and 1957.

The Diocese of Charleston, which includes all of South Carolina, has said it is investigating allegations against several priests accused of sexual abusing of minors. None of the priests is active, diocese officials have said.

That diocese reported last month that a priest living in Rock Hill had been accused of sexually abusing a child there. Rock Hill police charged the Rev. Juan Carlos Castano with performing a lewd act with a 5-year-old girl.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.