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Former Catholic Church Priest Charged With Child Sexual Abuse



A Catholic priest who served in two parishes in the Diocese of Raleigh until last week is accused of sexually assaulting a student in a Charlotte parish in the 1990s, the Diocese of Charlotte said on Tuesday.

Reverend Francis Gillespie, 79, allegedly committed the abuse at Our Lady of the Assumption Church on Shamrock Drive in east Charlotte in the mid to late 1990s when he was pastor of the church and his school, according to a statement from the Diocese of Charlotte. Gillespie served as a pastor from 1994 to 2001, diocesan officials said.

The abuse would have occurred in the church, not in the school, according to the diocesan statement.

The accuser recently reported the abuse to the Diocese of Charlotte and the overseeing New York-based Gillespie religious order, the Company of Jesus’ Eastern Province of the United States, diocesan officials said.

The Catholic News and Herald, Charlotte’s diocesan newspaper, reported the allegation Monday.

In August, the Jesuit order appointed Gillespie as the administrator of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Laurinburg, southeast of Rockingham, until a new pastor can be assigned, according to the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh website. He also attended Mass at the Lady of the Snows Mission in Elizabethtown, between Fayetteville and Wilmington, on Saturday evening.

From the early to mid-2000s, Gillespie served for several years at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Raleigh, according to News & Observer records.

The Diocese of Raleigh, in a statement to the Observer Tuesday, said it immediately removed Gillespie from St. Mary’s after receiving the allegation. Gillespie was removed “pending further investigation,” the statement said.

The Jesuits also removed him from office on September 29, pending a police investigation, according to the statement from the Diocese of Charlotte and a separate statement from the religious order.

Gillespie previously served in the Diocese of Raleigh from 2002 to 2008, when the Jesuits transferred him to the Diocese of Charleston, SC, the News and Herald reported. The Jesuits returned Gillespie to North Carolina in January, according to the newspaper.

No criminal record found in Charlotte

In Tuesday’s statement, the Diocese of Charlotte said an independent review of its staff and other records in 2019 “found no evidence of any allegations by anyone against Gillespie.”

“The Diocese of Charlotte has zero tolerance for child sexual abuse and follows strict protections outlined in the Charter 2002 for the protection of children and young people, ”according to the statement. “We encourage anyone who has been abused to seek help and report to the authorities.”

The diocese reported the allegation to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Mecklenburg County Social Services Department on September 28 and said it “will fully cooperate with any investigation,” according to its statement.

No record of an arrest or criminal charge against Gillespie appears on the Mecklenburg County Jail website. CMPD officer Justin Davies said the ministry would not comment if an investigation into Gillespie was underway.

Announcements regarding the allegation were made during weekend masses at Notre-Dame de l’Assomption and to school families, diocesan officials said.

The Diocese of Raleigh referred the observer’s questions, including the whereabouts of the priest, to their religious order.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Eastern Province of the United States of the Society of Jesus said it “takes seriously any allegation of misconduct in the ministry” and encouraged “anyone who suspects abuse by a member of the clergy or an employee of the Province to contact the local civil authorities and / or the provincial office.

“We continue to pray for victims of sexual abuse and for those who work with us to protect those we serve,” the statement said.

Priests “Credibly Accused”

In December 2019, the Diocese of Charlotte published a list of 14 members of the clergy who have been credibly accused child sexual abuse in western North Carolina since the formation of the diocese in 1972.

The diocese serves over 400,000 Catholics in 46 counties.

Most of the incidents are believed to have occurred decades ago, and the diocese said the 14 accused clergy were subsequently removed from their posts or died before the allegations arose.

Officials separately listed 23 clergy who served the Diocese of Charlotte without incident but were charged with misconduct elsewhere, and six who served western North Carolina before the diocese was established in 1972.

In 2020, Reverend Patrick Hoare, pastor of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, was removed from active ministry after decades-old allegations of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania surfaced the previous year. said Bishop Peter Jugis at the time. St. Matthew is one of the largest parishes in the country.

And, in a lawsuit last year, a California man said he was sexually assaulted by Robert Yurgel, a defrocked priest who served nearly eight years in prison for assaulting another child in St. Matthew, previously reported. Observe it.

The Diocese of Charlotte faces a few lawsuits citing a two-year window that temporarily waives the state’s usual statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases.

North Carolina banned survivors from bringing civil suits at age 21, but the SAFE Child Act extended that period to age 28. But until December 31, no age limit applies.

The state appeals court is set to hear two cases in which lawyers for the diocese have argued that plaintiffs should not be allowed to use the window to revive claims that had already been dismissed. Two accusers did so after the old statute of limitations led courts to dismiss their first lawsuits.

In their case, anonymous complainants say they were sexually assaulted by two men who at the time were priests in the diocese: Joseph kelleher and Richard farwell.

Charlotte Observer editor Sara Coello contributed.

This story was originally published 5 October 2021 1:55 pm.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989, covering the region’s population, municipalities and major current events, and was the editor of the newspaper’s press office. He is currently reporting the latest news.