CHARLOTTE — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte on Aug. 12 announced that it would be holding information sessions with news media about its “response to sexual abuse issues from the past and how protections put in place 17 years ago are working today.”
In a statement, the diocese indicated that an independent investigative firm is conducting a comprehensive review of all clergy personnel files dating back to the diocese’s inception in 1972 to search for any indication of sexual abuse of a minor.
Following a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that revealed hundreds of priests were accused of abusing more than 1,000 children and that church leaders took steps to cover up the crimes, many have demanded that Catholic dioceses and orders release the names of accused priests.
The Charlotte Diocese in the spring announced its decision to publish a list of credibly accused clergy, which it said it intends to do by the end of the year.
“The Diocese of Charlotte has zero tolerance for child sexual abuse, and we are committed to transparency and accountability in our handling of this crime,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Winslow, vicar general and chancellor of the diocese, in the statement. “The goal of these sessions is to provide important background and context to help media — and the community — understand our efforts to account for past abuse and that strong child protections and reporting protocols put in place nearly two decades ago are working.”
Winslow said the firm U.S. Investigative Security Services has been working to complete a comprehensive review of all clergy personnel files in the Charlotte diocese, a task that involves reviewing tens of thousands of pages in more than 1,000 files.
Winslow was recently named to the second highest position in the diocese and reports directly to Bishop Peter J. Jugis on matters related to clergy and vocations. As chancellor, Winslow also oversees the diocese’s day-to-day administrative and business operations.
According to the Charlotte Observer, Winslow was appointed to the position after his predecessor, Monsignor Mauricio West, stepped down. The diocese’s Lay Review Board had deemed a sexual misconduct allegation against West involving a former adult student in the 1980s to be credible, although West denied the allegation, the newspaper reported.
Winslow previously served as an ex-officio member of the Lay Review Board, which investigates allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by clergy and other church personnel and advises the bishop on how to respond if the board finds allegations to be credible.
In June 2002, in the wake of the Boston Globe‘s influential investigation that revealed the vast extent of abuse by Catholic priests, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
“Since 2002, the Charlotte diocese has taken a zero-tolerance approach to child sexual abuse and has acted swiftly to report all abuse allegations to authorities, remove clergy from ministry and publicly report the names of those clergy found credibly accused,” it said in the Aug. 12 statement. “The diocese is unaware of any allegations against practicing clergy.”
“Most of the allegations of child abuse we are dealing with now involve incidents that happened decades ago, and, sadly, those victims continue to suffer,” said Winslow. “We know that a full public accounting of abuse that took place at any time within our diocese is critical to promoting justice and healing for victims, and we believe the independent investigation by third-party experts will move us closer to achieving both of these goals.”
St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country in Boone, Church of the Epiphany in Blowing Rock, St. Francis of Assisi in Jefferson and St. Bernadette in Linville are all parishes of the Charlotte Diocese.
As the Watauga Democrat previously reported, two Catholic priests who pastored Boone’s St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country in the 1990s are among those said to be “credibly” accused of sexually abusing minors.
They include H. Cornell Bradley, who now is 80, who was among a list of priests named in December 2018 by the Maryland Province Jesuits. Bradley had “multiple allegations of sexual abuse” against him in Ocean City, Md., and Washington, D.C., in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the province, a Roman Catholic order of 17,000 priests and brothers.
“An allegation is deemed ‘credible’ if there is a preponderance of evidence that the allegation is more likely true than not,” the province stated at the time.
Bradley was assigned to St. Elizabeth in Boone from July 1989 to September 1993, according to church records. Although St. Elizabeth is a parish of the Charlotte Diocese, as a Jesuit priest, Bradley would have reported to the Maryland Province, province spokesperson Mike Gabriele told the Watauga Democrat. To the best knowledge of the province, no abuse allegations stemmed from Bradley’s assignment at St. Elizabeth, Gabriele said in January.
A spokesperson for the Charlotte Diocese confirmed to the Watauga Democrat in January that the diocese considers reports of abuse by Damion J. Lynch — who was promoted to pastor at St. Elizabeth after Bradley’s departure — to be credible. According to Watauga County court records as well as media reports, the diocese twice settled with a Boone family over allegations that Lynch had sexually abused twin boys in the early 1990s.
Lynch was placed as associate priest at St. Elizabeth in June 1991, and after the departure of Bradley, was installed as pastor of the church. In 1995, he was placed on administrative leave by Bishop William G. Curlin and ordered to undergo psychological testing, spokesperson David Hains confirmed in January.