Priest Fired over Past Allegation

By Yonat Shimron
News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)
April 12, 2002

A Roman Catholic priest in Burgaw was removed from his duties this week after the bishop of the Raleigh diocese said the priest lied on his application to be a seminarian and had been charged with taking indecent liberty with a minor before his ordination.

The removal of the Rev. Francis A. Perry, 57, represents the first time the diocese has acknowledged that at least one priest active in the diocese has a past marked by allegations of contributing to sexual abuse. The diocese had previously confirmed that three priests were accused of abusing children in years past. None are living in the area, and the diocese has not disclosed their names.

Perry, who served as pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Burgaw and Transfiguration Catholic Church in Wallace, answered "no" on a seminary application when asked if he had ever been arrested or charged with any crime, church officials said. In addition, when asked on a diocesan document, "Has a civil lawsuit, criminal complaint or employer complaint ever been filed against you for child abuse?" Church officials said Perry answered "no."

Perry could not be reached for comment at the churches he led in the small towns north of Wilmington.

The swift action against Perry comes in the wake of an ongoing scandal rocking the Catholic Church. In dioceses across the nation, allegations have arisen that church officials covered up cases in which priests had molested children. In response, Bishop F. Joseph Gossman made it clear last month that he will immediately remove any priest accused of abusing children.

Gossman said that on March 13 he received a letter from a Perry family member informing him of an incident involving a 4-year-old that occurred 41 years ago when Perry was a teenager. The letter also mentioned another incident 15 years ago in which Perry was arrested and charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor. The charge was dropped when the victim refused to testify. Both incidents reportedly took place before Perry became a Catholic in 1990. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1998.

Diocesan spokesman Frank Morock said Perry admitted to the first incident but maintained his innocence in the second.

The contents of the letter were presented to a bishop's advisory board, which oversees allegations of child abuse. Perry was called in for questioning and a criminal background check was conducted. The results were negative because the 1987 charge had been dismissed. Still, the advisory board determined that Perry's conduct in providing false information was so grave it constituted a serious breach of trust. Neither of the alleged incidents took place in North Carolina, Gossman said.

Gossman said he made the decision to remove Perry on Tuesday.

He said he has received no complaint against Perry in the four years he served as a priest in the diocese. On the contrary, Gossman described Perry as a "model priest."

"He was very highly regarded by his parish," Gossman said. "They're going to be devastated and mad at me, but that's life."

Gossman said Perry would not be hired for any position in the diocese. He said he had not determined whether he is required to write to the Vatican regarding the case, since the incidents did not take place while Perry was a priest. Bishops are required to report all allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of priests to Rome.

Parishioners at the Wallace parish, which has 120 members, said they never had cause to suspect Perry.

"He is loved in the community by both the Americans as well as the Hispanics," said Luis Alonso Galan, 27, of Rose Hill, a member of the Transfiguration parish. "I guarantee you, he's an excellent person."

Galan said Perry celebrated Mass in Spanish and was known to the Spanish speakers as Father Andres.

Milton R. Swinson, 60, a longtime member of Transfiguration Church in Wallace, said he learned about the case at a Knights of Columbus meeting on Tuesday.

"I had been following the national story, and it never came to mind what happened in New York and Boston would affect us here," Swinson said, referring to allegations of sexual abuse involving priests in those dioceses. "We felt isolated from it that we were never going to be bothered by it."


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