Religion

Priests accused of child sex abuse include monks once at Belmont Abbey, local church

Two former Benedictine monks who once worked at Belmont Abbey College and St. Michael Catholic Church in Gastonia appear on a list released by the Diocese of Richmond, Va., of priests “with credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors.”

In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte investigated one of the priests, Donald Scales, and judged credible an allegation that he sexually abused a child while he was pastor at St. Michael parish in Gastonia in the late 1970s, according to a statement on Monday by Belmont Abbey Abbot Placid Solari.

Charlotte Diocese spokesman David Hains acknowledged on Tuesday that the 46-county diocese did not alert the congregation or parents at St. Michael when the accusation involving Scales came to light.

Though both Scales and the other listed monk, Frederick George, held posts at Belmont Abbey College over the years, Solari said in his statement that none of the clergy sex abuse accusations against the two priests involved students at the Catholic college.

Scales, who transferred to Richmond by 1980, denied the allegation against him in 2006, Solari said. Scales died in 2008.

George, who also worked at Belmont Abbey College and St. Michael as well as in Virginia, was accused of sexually abusing a child at a parish in the Richmond diocese, according to Solari’s statement. George was dismissed from the clergy in 2004.

Solari issued the statement two days after The Charlotte Observer inquired about the names of the former monks appearing on the Richmond list.

He addressed some of his comments in the statement to the Belmont Abbey College community: “I can assure you furthermore that there are no allegations of any kind against the current members of the Belmont Abbey monastic community.”

He also said that he was hiring “an independent private investigator to audit the personal files of the monks to provide an assurance of independent verification that there are no other credible allegations against current or former monks of this community.”

Solari said he received the allegation against Scales in 2006, decades after Scales’ two years as pastor at St. Michael.

He sent the allegation to the Diocese of Charlotte, where a lay review board investigated and “judged the allegation credible,” according to Solari’s statement.

He said Child Protective Services of the Department of Social Services in Gaston County was also notified.

Because the alleged perpetrator was not a parent or caretaker of the victim, the department would have passed the information to the Gastonia Police Department to investigate, Brittain Kenney, public information officer for the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services, told the Observer. A police spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday morning, Gastonia Police spokeswoman Donna Lahser said in an email to the Observer: “Current and past Gastonia Police Department record systems have been checked, and no report was found. So apparently no police report was filed with us.”

Asked why the Charlotte diocese didn’t alert the congregation or parents at St. Michael in 2006, Hains said: “I don’t really know why. It was (almost) 30 years after it happened when we first learned about it. Typically, the (religious) orders handled this. I don’t know if we expected the Benedictines to handle.”

According to diocesan records, Hains said, “the victim didn’t want any publicity. The victim wanted it kept quiet. The victim wanted to be anonymous in 2006.”

Hains declined to give further information about the accusation against Scales, citing the victim’s request for anonymity.

Hains said, “I certainly understand if people (at St. Michael) are upset.” He said the parish is now “doing some communication on this” and plans to better listen to congregants on what happened.

On the Gastonia church’s website Tuesday, Pastor Lucas Rossi invited parishioners to “use this Friday as a Day of Prayer and Reparation.”

He also encouraged “anyone who has been abused or has suspicion of any abuse by clerics, parish personnel, or anyone associated with the church, to inform the local law enforcement, as well as the diocese, either directly or through me.”

Rossi was not available for further comment.

In 2006, Solari said in his statement, he and Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis communicated the allegation to the superior of the monastery in Richmond where Scales, then elderly and infirm, was living. But information about the allegation was not given to the Richmond diocese until Solari did so recently, the abbot said.

Scales and the other monk, George, held various posts at Belmont Abbey College over the years. George, who returned to the school in 1991, was the school’s chaplain from 1994 to 1997, Solari said in his statement. He said Scales, who entered Belmont Abbey in 1948, “served in various positions” at the college in the decades before transferring to Virginia in 1980.

Solari told the Belmont Abbey College community in his statement that neither of the accusations against Scales and George involved students there.

Solari, in his statement, said it was “painful” to acknowledge past sex abuse of children. “However, clergy sexual abuse has caused grave damage to victims, has damaged the church and its mission. and is a source of shame to all of us who seek to live and minister with integrity.

“While we cannot undo actions and decisions of the past, we are deeply contrite that former monks of our community have credible allegations of harm to others.”

The scandal of child sex abuse among many Catholic priests going back decades was first exposed in a big way in 2002 by the Boston Globe. The Richmond diocese is one of many around the country that have released lists in recent months of priests credibly accused of clergy sex abuse.

The 46-county Diocese of Charlotte is still deciding whether to release its own list, Hains said Tuesday.

The diocese is in a “wait-and-see mode,” Hains told the Observer, and hopes “for a little bit of guidance” from a summit on the issue at the Vatican this week and a follow-up meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops in June.

In December, H. Cornell Bradley, another former priest who worked in the Charlotte diocese, appeared on a list of priests of the Jesuit Catholic religious order who were “credibly accused” since the 1950s of sexually abusing minors.

The Jesuits’ Maryland Province, which released the list, also includes Jesuit-staffed Catholic parishes in the Carolinas and other states.

Among numerous other pastoral assignments over five decades in various states, Bradley worked at St. Therese Catholic Church in Mooresville in 1988-89 and 1998, and St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country Church in Boone from 1989 to 1993, according to the list.

“Multiple allegations of sexual abuse” by Bradley occurred in the “1970s–1980s” in Ocean City, Md., and Washington, D.C., according to the list. Bradley was “removed from ministry” in 2006 and left the Jesuits in 2007, according to the list.

Tim Funk has covered faith & values for the Charlotte Observer for 15 years. He has won three national awards from the Religion News Association and numerous awards from the North Carolina Press Association. He has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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