Curlin Explains Earlier Decisions to Keep Accused Priests in Jobs

By Ken Garfield
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
June 14, 2002

Roman Catholic Bishop William Curlin of Charlotte reaffirmed his support for a one-strike-and-you're-out policy for abusive priests Thursday, while defending his decisions to let three priests accused of sexual misconduct continue to serve his diocese.

Speaking to The Observer for the first time about the cases, Curlin said he acted in good faith in each case. The spiritual leader of 132,000 Catholics in Western North Carolina, said he took action when he determined that allegations against the priests had merit.

While saying that some cases fall into a gray area, Curlin lashed out at pedophile priests and said they are not fit to serve.

"None of this 'give them limited ministry,' " Curlin said at the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Whether (the abuse) was past or present or the future, one is too many."

Curlin is among 300 bishops in Dallas for a three-day meeting to adopt a policy that would regulate how dioceses deal with abusive priests.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse has proposed that priests with one proven allegation in the past be permitted to continue in ministry under some circumstances. But momentum seems strong for zero tolerance. Bishops Joseph Gossman of Raleigh and Robert Baker of Charleston have joined Curlin and others in backing zero tolerance.

Thursday morning, bishops heard from four Catholics who were sexually abused by priests as children. The first to speak was Minnesota businessman Craig Martin, 46, who referred to himself throughout his testimony as "John Doe" because it was less painful to talk about the abuse in the third person.

"John remembers the motel that night with the priest, but hardly anything else," Martin said, pausing several times to choke back tears.

Curlin listened to the victims' accounts, and later called it "one of the most deeply moving experiences of my life." Then, with diocesan vice chancellor Anthony Marcaccio providing some details, he explained his actions in three high-profile cases.

Curlin said he reassigned Damion Lynch to Our Lady of Consolation in Charlotte in 1997 after a financial settlement was made with a victim's family. There was no diagnosis of pedophilia regarding Lynch, Curlin explained, and the victim's family had spoken highly of him.

Lynch was removed in 1998 after another allegation surfaced, and is now out of the priesthood and out of state.

Curlin said he allowed Boston priest George Berthold to teach at Belmont Abbey College in 1997 because Boston officials indicated that an allegation against him involving an adult was unfounded. Berthold was recommended to the diocese by embattled Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who is under fire for transferring predatory priests to other dioceses. Berthold had been accused in the Boston diocese of kissing a college freshman on his lips. He was removed from Belmont Abbey in 1998 after an allegation of sexual abuse surfaced involving a minor from 25 years ago.

In the third case, Curlin said he wrote a job-related letter on behalf of priest Richard Farwell after the diocese determined a 1999 allegation against him was not credible. Farwell was placed on administrative leave earlier this year by the diocese after the family of the alleged victim came forward again with the charge of sexual misconduct. Farwell was then fired from his job with a South Florida charity.

Not just dwelling on abusive priests, the bishops' focus this week in Dallas is on each other. Bishops hope to send to the Vatican a plan that will close loopholes that have allowed so many abusive priests to continue serving the church. Some 225 of the nation's 46,000 priests have been dismissed or resigned since the crisis erupted in January.


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