Spreading: Area Diocese Looks into More Allegations

By John Railey
Winston-Salem Journal [Winston Salem NC]
April 16, 2002

Officials with the Catholic diocese that includes this area are responding to four allegations of inappropriate behavior by priests, the latest allegation coming the day after members of a Greensboro parish learned that their priest had been removed.

Members of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Greensboro were told Sunday that their priest, the Rev. Jim O'Neill, had been relieved of his duties after an allegation was made Thursday of "inappropriate behavior" that occurred before O'Neill came to Greensboro.

O'Neill, who was a Catholic educator before coming to St. Paul's 11 years ago, is well-liked within his parish of about 5,500 members, officials said.

"We've had a lot of calls coming in, and they're expressing their concern and their support," said the Rev. Anthony Gilborges, an associate pastor at St. Paul's who is temporarily overseeing the parish. "They're concerned about Father Jim and are wishing him the best. They're keeping all the good that he has done in mind."

St. Paul's is part of the Charlotte Diocese of the Catholic Church, which also includes churches in Forsyth County. Diocese officials said yesterday that the allegation against O'Neill is one of "inappropriate behavior" and stopped short of calling it an allegation of sexual misconduct. They declined to give any details about the allegation.

Diocese officials said they received yesterday a fourth allegation against a priest. They declined to give any further information.

Officials are also responding to two allegations of sexual abuse by priests said to have occurred more than 25 years ago. Those allegations were reported early last week and have been turned over to authorities, diocese officials said. The allegation reported yesterday has also been turned over to authorities, they said.

Before coming to St. Paul's in 1991, O'Neill served as a math teacher and assistant principal at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Va., from 1968 to 1973; as a math teacher and principal at Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del., from 1973 to 1986; and as the principal of Archbishop Wood High School in Warminister, Pa., From 1986 to 1990, according to information provided by Catholic officials.

Gilborges said that O'Neill is now "out of the state."

O'Neill is a member of an order of priests, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. The Oblates are investigating the allegation against O'Neill, said Joann Keane, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte Diocese. "Upon completion, we will receive a report," she wrote in an e-mail to the Journal. Keane said in an e-mail that the diocese has received letters of support for O'Neill.

The ultimate decision as to whether O'Neill remains a priest will be up to the Oblates, diocese officials said.

Gilborges said that he was shocked when he learned of the allegation against O'Neill, whom he has worked with for five years. Gilborges said that he was notified by the Rev. Joseph Morrisey of Delaware, the provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis. In a statement read at masses at St. Paul's Sunday, Morrisey said he received the allegation against O'Neill on Thursday night. "I ask you, as members of this parish community, to hold us all in prayer, particularly Father Jim's accuser and Father Jim himself," Morrisey said.

Carol Kuzmak, a St. Paul's member, said she is praying for O'Neill. "You don't make a judgment until you know things," she said.


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