Catholic Sex Abuse Survivor Breaks Silence, Calls for Action from Charlotte Diocese
By Nick Ochsner
February 28, 2019
An Asheville man who says he was abused by two priests as a young teenager is calling for the Charlotte Diocese to take new steps to publicly address sexual abuse by priests.
Douglas Dickerson was 13 when he said he was first abused by a priest at Saint Elizabeth’s of the Hill Country Catholic Church in Boone, NC.
“I definitely wasn't prepared to handle it, and my reaction was to attempt suicide actually on the church grounds,” Dickerson said in an interview with WBTV News.
Dickerson has never before spoken publicly about the abuse he said he suffered at the hands of not one but two priests at the same parish in the early 1990’s.
The first priest Dickerson said abused him was Father H. Cornell Bradley, a Jesuit priest who came to North Carolina in the late 1980’s after working primarily in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
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Bradley was included on a list of priests who have “a credible or established offense against a minor (anyone under the age of 18) who are deceased or former Maryland Province Jesuits.”
The list was released by the Maryland Province Jesuits in December 2018.
According to detailed information included with the December release, Bradley’s estimated timeframe of abuse was the “1970s-1980s.”
The abuse is described as “multiple allegations of sexual abuse. Ocean City, MD; Washington, DC.”
In his interview, Dickerson said he was surprised to learn Bradley had been accused of sexual abuse decades before he was sent to minister at a parish in North Carolina.
It is not clear whether the Charlotte Diocese was aware of the allegations at the time Bradley worked as a priest in the area.
“It feels like St. Elizabeth’s, well, more so the Charlotte diocese, did have a role in being able to prevent something like this and knowing that if they would have followed not necessarily their rules, policies and procedures that they have in black and white, but moral rules and societies laws that that could have been prevented and they didn’t do their part,” Dickerson said.
In January, a spokesman for the diocese told the Watauga Democrat that the diocese was unaware of any reports of abuse against Bradley while he worked in Boone.
That same diocesan spokesman, David Hains, refused a request for an on-camera interview for this story and dismissed the report as “gotcha journalism.”
In addition to Bradley, Dickerson said he also suffered abuse at the hands of a second priest at the same church in Boone, Father Damian Lynch.
Lynch and the diocese were sued by a different family that attended the same church in Boone in the same time period as Dickerson that alleged Lynch assaulted twin brothers.
That lawsuit was settled out of court. Lynch has never faced criminal charges.
But a deposition given by then-Bishop William Curlin said Lynch had been sent away to a residential treatment program for priests after he admitted to looking at a boy who had spent the night in the rectory while the boy slept.
Curlin said staff at the treatment facility returned Lynch to resume his ministry.
Dickerson said he hopes the Charlotte Diocese joins a growing number of Catholic dioceses across the country that are publicly identifying priests who have faced credible allegations of sexual abuse. Despite the growing trend towards transparency, Dickerson doesn’t think local Catholic leaders will disclose such a list.
“I think that putting people in positions of power and trust they feel as if they are above the law,” he said. “They feel as if they can sweep things under the rug. That they have their own policies.”
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Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, Ph.D., who works with abuse survivors as part of her practice with Presbyterian Psychological Services, said the church releasing a comprehensive list of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse would help survivors.
“I think it is very helpful. It’s validating to the victims,” Frawley-O’Dea said.
As part of her work, Frawley-O’Dea has spoken to the US Council of Bishops on the topic of clergy sex abuse in the early 2000’s.
In the nearly two decades since, she said, she’s seen little from the church to substantively address the problem.
“They have not made the kind of substantive changes that protect children or deal with the priests and why it happens in the first place,” she said.
In an email, Hains, the spokesman for the Charlotte Diocese, said a decision has not been made on whether to release a comprehensive list of abusive priests in Charlotte. He did not provide a timeline by which a decision is expected to be made.
Douglas Dickerson, who said he suffered for decades after being abused by two priests, doesn’t expect a list to ever be released.
“I’m hoping that they can get to that point,” he said. “I think that there are some dioceses that are accepting responsibility and accepting accountability. But the Charlotte diocese is not one of them.”