Altered by Accusations
Former Charlotte Catholic Teacher Denies Allegations That Ended His Goal of Becoming a Priest

By Ken Garfield
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
July 19, 2003

Who is Mark Doherty?

The innocent victim of the clamor over sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church?

Or a former Charlotte Catholic High School teacher who deserved to lose his job for what happened 26 years ago on a camping trip with two teen-age boys?

The question isn't so neatly answered. This much, though, is certain: In February, old personnel records were released from the Boston Archdiocese in which Doherty was accused of sexual misconduct with the two unnamed boys. They were 13 and 15 when he took them camping to New Hampshire in September 1977.

An investigation followed, and he was forced from his job teaching religion at Charlotte Catholic High. His 1997 hiring was called a "breach of trust" by the Charlotte diocese.

Now, the 49-year-old Boston native who once was on track to become a priest works to defend his reputation - and to figure out what to do with his life now that his name is linked to perhaps the biggest scandal in modern church history.

"I've had 26 years of life where everyone thinks I'm a good guy and trusts me implicitly," Doherty said. "This is half my life ago, and it's the only negative thing that's ever been said about me. And it shouldn't make a difference."

Except for a brief statement protesting his dismissal from Charlotte Catholic High, Doherty has not spoken publicly about his life or the allegations. He agreed to tell his side of the story to The Observer - both to defend himself and to talk about his six years at Charlotte Catholic High.

Doherty's lawyer, J. Jerome Miller of Charlotte, said his client has never been charged or sued over the allegation of sexual misconduct. Kevin Murray, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, said Doherty was never accused of wrongdoing at Charlotte Catholic.

But the release of the Boston documents containing details of the 1977 incident changed his life.

The second of 10 children, Mark Doherty had yearned to be a priest since the seventh grade. Growing up in an ardent Catholic family in Boston, serving as an altar boy, fidgeting during Latin Mass, he came to admire the virtues and impact of priests on people's lives.

He came to believe there was no higher calling.

Doherty graduated from Boston University in 1975 with a major in public relations. He began selling pharmaceuticals and talked about marriage with his girlfriend. But he said his yearning to serve God and the church was too powerful to ignore.

In 1989, Doherty entered Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass. It was the beginning of a journey he hoped would end with him putting on the collar of his faith.

But four years into that journey, in 1993, two men came to the Boston Archdiocese to talk about their camping weekend with Doherty 16 years earlier.

Camping trip recalled

In 1977, Doherty was friends with the Boston family of the two brothers. In happier times, he recalled eating supper with the family.

He was a 24-year-old pharmaceutical salesman the weekend he took the boys camping to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Several other brothers and sisters from the same family of nine children were supposed to go, but opted to attend a Bruce Springsteen concert instead, said Doherty.

The brothers' names have not been made public. According to their allegations, Doherty bathed naked with them in a river during that weekend. While applying ointment to protect them from mosquitoes, they said Doherty also touched their genitals.

In an interview with The Observer, Doherty acknowledged that he did bathe naked with the boys in a river. "That's something we always did and what everybody did up there," he said, adding that he wouldn't do it in 2003, given the current church scandal and heightened sensitivity.

Doherty said he doesn't recall applying ointment for mosquitoes, but doesn't doubt that he did. He does, however, deny touching the boys inappropriately. "If I applied it untoward," Doherty said, "I would have remembered."

About ten years after the camping trip, Doherty said, he ran into one of the brothers in church. The brother brought up the camping trip and said he felt "funny" about it, Doherty said. The brother shared his concern with a priest. After talking with the priest, Doherty said he agreed to see a psychologist.

"The psychologist didn't see an issue," Doherty said. "They (the two brothers) said they'd accept that."

Doherty said he didn't see the brothers after that and he thought the matter was closed.

In 1993, just before Doherty was to be ordained, the allegations were formally made to the Boston Archdiocese. (Charlotte's Sarah Rieth, a pastoral counselor and Episcopal minister who works with sexual-abuse survivors, said it's not unusual for victims to wait years to come forward.)

In its reports on the boys' allegations, the Boston Archdiocese concluded that exactly what happened that weekend in the White Mountains may never be known.

"The allegations are substantial and to be considered reasonably probable," one report stated. "His (Doherty's) explanation also seems reasonably probable. There is no conclusion."

The charges sparked years of responses found in Doherty's personnel file - psychological evaluations, correspondence with the Archdiocese, letters between Doherty and church officials. Much of it focused on his suddenly uncertain future.

His plans to be a priest were on hold. Over the next four years, while his past was analyzed and discussed, Doherty graduated from seminary and then managed a Rhode Island restaurant. Then someone told him about the Charlotte Diocese, and his professional gaze turned South, toward the promise of starting someplace new.

Four years after the allegations were first made against him, Doherty was hired in the fall of 1997 at Charlotte Catholic High School. He began teaching English and then religion.

He said he had found his calling in the classroom and serving as an athletic trainer on the playing fields. Typically, he stayed busy taping ankles and making sure athletes had enough water. He loved the give-and-take with students, the chance to help mentor them. He was a tour leader for youth on a 23-day trip to Europe in summer 2001.

"I was doing something besides making money for people, which is what I did before," Doherty said, referring to his days selling pharmaceuticals.

Allegations under scrutiny

And yet even before Doherty had begun work in Charlotte, Catholic leaders were privately weighing the allegations.

Doherty was asking the Boston Archdiocese to OK his acceptance into the Charlotte Diocese as he continued the process of becoming a priest. In letters to Charlotte Bishop William Curlin, then-Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said he couldn't approve Doherty's ordination in Boston.

Law - who resigned last December amid revelations he moved abusive priests from one parish to another - told Charlotte officials there was a "reasonable probability" that Doherty engaged in sexual misconduct.

Despite Boston's warning, Doherty was accepted into the Charlotte Diocese, to serve first as a teacher while he was being considered for the priesthood. In a letter to Law on July 22, 1999, Curlin said he had decided to incardinate, or formally accept, Doherty into the diocese - a step Doherty believed would lead to him being ordained a priest.

Doherty said he had briefly discussed the allegations against him two or three times with Curlin. "He knew about the allegations," Doherty said. "He didn't put much thought in them either."

Curlin is now retired and living in Charlotte. Through a diocese spokesman, he declined to comment this week on Doherty's case.

Support quickly waned

The release of the old records in February - part of a mountain of paperwork made public by the courts in the Boston church scandal - changed everything.

Current leaders of the Charlotte Diocese came quickly to Doherty's defense when the Boston Globe and Charlotte Observer began writing about the case.

At first, Monsignor Mauricio West, administrator of the Charlotte Diocese, said psychological evaluations had found that Doherty posed no threat. He indicated to The Observer that he hoped Doherty could return to teaching once a review board was done looking into the case.

The Rev. James Hawker, vicar of education for the Charlotte Diocese, called Doherty a highly respected teacher suddenly confronted by an uncertain moment in his past.

"It appeared that the matter was settled," Hawker said in February. "All of a sudden it becomes resurrected again."

Ted Nickerson was one of many from Charlotte Catholic who supported Doherty, both as an educator and a friend.

An assistant wrestling coach and father of two Charlotte Catholic High students (one graduated in June), Nickerson said he didn't know about the accusations until they were made public. When he found out, he called Doherty to express his support. He also wrote a letter to Monsignor West, calling Doherty "an exemplary employee and Christian."

"I'm comfortable with what he's done at Catholic," Nickerson said. "This (the allegations) is like 25 years ago."

Doherty leaves school

Within a month, support evaporated in the Charlotte Diocese.

Following a two-week investigation, a nine-person lay review board unanimously recommended in March that Doherty not return to the classroom. Having been on administrative leave while the case was resolved, he agreed to leave permanently.

Review board co-chairman Bob Gallagher said the nonbinding recommendation came after Doherty told his side in a written statement. He said the board did not interview the accusers in the case, feeling it had enough information to go on.

Gallagher, chairman and CEO of Good Will Publishers in Gastonia, declined to say what the board found, or whether its recommendation is an indication it believed Doherty had committed sexual misconduct.

All he'd say is what others have said: This is a difficult case.

"These types of allegations are easily made and difficult to prove," he said. "Once made, they tend to brand someone for life. We just have to be exceptionally careful in dealing not with rumor and innuendo, but fact.

"You've got a man's reputation in your hand on one side," said Gallagher. "On the other side, you've got children."

An uncertain future

Doherty continues living in Charlotte while he contemplates his next move. He likes the area and doesn't want to leave, but knows he might have to relocate to get a job. He's thinking about getting into PR, maybe in New York or New Jersey. He said he is being paid by the diocese through August, when his teaching contract runs out. He proudly shows a stack of letters of support he has received from Charlotte Catholic students, teachers and parents.

His lawyer, J. Jerome Miller, said he doesn't think Doherty will teach again.

Doherty still wants to be a priest, but knows his childhood dream is over.

Months after losing his job, he still seems nervous talking about the camping trip 26 years ago. He appears visibly shaken as he talks about how it changed everything about his life.

At the end of one interview, Doherty mentioned he was about to leave for a Wrightsville Beach vacation with some Charlotte Catholic parents, children and some of their friends.

The first thing he said was: "But I'll have my own room."


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