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Support group for clergy sex abuse victims criticizes dismissal of court cases

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DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
David Fortwengler, left, and Pam Wennersten Laico talk to the media during a news conference Tuesday across the street from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte Pastoral Center. The news conference, held by members of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), comes one day after Pope Francis met with victims of clergy abuse and begged forgiveness for the way that victims’ cases were treated by Catholic officials. SNAP wants Bishop Peter Jugis to conduct a similar apology.

A support group for victims of child sex abuse by clergy charged Tuesday that the recent dismissal of court cases in Charlotte and Stanly County had “revictimized” men allegedly abused by two Catholic priests.

In a news conference held outside the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte’s main offices, members of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) also called on Bishop Peter Jugis to publicly attest to the credibility of the allegations by the four men.

“We want to thank these survivors for their courage in reporting these crimes to the police,” said the statement read by SNAP member David Fortwengler. “They have exposed dangerous predators and helped protect children.”

The Rev. Joseph Kelleher was charged in 2010 in Albemarle with one count of taking indecent liberties with a child. The alleged incident occurred in 1977.

But last week, a Superior Court judge in Albemarle dismissed the case against Kelleher, ruling that the priest, now 86 and living in a nursing facility, is not mentally capable of standing trial.

And last month, a Mecklenburg judge dismissed civil suits filed in 2011 and 2012 against the Charlotte diocese over allegations of child sex abuse by priests because they missed the state’s deadline for such complaints.

In response to SNAP’s news conference, the Charlotte diocese released an apology issued by Jugis during an Ash Wednesday Mass in 2004.

“I express my profound sorrow to those … who have been victims of this crime,” he said. “And it is a crime. Some clergy did not live up to their calling to be an image of Christ the Good Shepard.”

Since 2004, more than 37,000 people in the 46-county diocese have gone through the diocesan sex abuse awareness training. The diocese also said it has conducted more than 46,000 background checks and re-checks.

The SNAP news conference came one day after Pope Francis met with victims of clergy abuse and begged forgiveness for the way that victims’ cases were treated by many Catholic bishops and other officials.

Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.

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