The second in command of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte has stepped down after a “credible allegation” of sexual misconduct involving a former adult student of Belmont Abbey College, the diocese’s newspaper reported Thursday.
Monsignor Mauricio West, the diocese’s vicar general and its chancellor for nearly 25 years, has denied the allegation, the Catholic News Herald reported. Following a period of counseling and assessment, the diocese’s bishop said in a statement, West will be on a leave of absence from his ministerial duties.
West resigned Monday following a finding by the 46-county diocese’s Lay Review Board that the allegations were credible, The statement by Bishop Peter Jugis said.
The events are alleged to have occurred in the mid-1980s, when West was vice president for student affairs at Belmont Abbey, a small, Catholic liberal arts college in Gaston County. They involved multiple incidents of unwanted overtures toward an adult student over a two-year period, the bishop’s statement said.
The statement did not indicate whether that student was a man or a woman.
The former student met with the Lay Review Board in February to discuss the allegation, the statement said. The board was created in 2002 to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, determine whether they are credible and report to the bishop.
No criminal charges have been filed, the Catholic News Herald reported.
“While the alleged behavior did not constitute sexual abuse and did not involve a minor, it is the strict policy of the Diocese of Charlotte to refer all allegations by known accusers of potential sexual misconduct to the Lay Review Board for investigation,” Jugis said in the statement. “Misconduct includes boundary violations and improper behavior by clergy, lay people and church volunteers involving children and adults.”
The bishop offered his “deepest apologies” to the victim in the case.
The diocese will take “all necessary steps to root out all inappropriate behavior and to being open and transparent about our handling of all allegations of such conduct,“ Jugis said.
The 67-year-old West has been a longtime volunteer leader in Charlotte, including with the United Way of Central Carolinas and Queens University of Charlotte. He chaired the United Way board in 2004, a United Way spokesman said. He joined the board at Queens in July 2016 and resigned last Thursday, according to a university spokeswoman.
‘We are deeply sorry’
In a statement, Belmont Abbey Abbot Placid Solari said the school cooperated with the diocese’s investigation and pledged that the school would be transparent in its handling of misconduct allegations.
“Monsignor West has denied the allegations. Nonetheless, we are deeply sorry for the victim and have apologized personally to the individual,” Solari’s statement said. “Although we cannot undo the past, we are dedicated to preventing such inappropriate behavior in the future. “
Solari said Belmont Abbey investigates all misconduct claims and provides regular training to members of the Belmont Abbey community on prevention of sexual harassment and misconduct.
As vicar general, West reported to Jugis and acted in the bishop’s place in his absence, the Catholic News Herald reported. As chancellor, he oversaw administrative and business affairs and worked with Catholic Charities of the diocese and its school system.
West began his ministry as a Benedictine monk at Belmont Abbey and served the college for a decade in faculty and administrative roles, including serving on its board of trustees.
Two former Benedictine monks who once worked at Belmont Abbey in Belmont and St. Michael Catholic Church in Gastonia appeared on a list released by the Diocese of Richmond, Va., of priests “with credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors,” the Observer reported in February.
Jugis issued a “sincere apology” the day after the report to victims of clergy sex abuse, which he called “this crime and awful sin.” But the Charlotte diocese has so far resisted the trend around the country of releasing a list of past and present priests who have been credibly accused of child sex abuse.
“Publication of the list is under consideration,” diocese spokesman David Hains said Thursday.
Reporter Joe Marusak contributed