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Doherty Fired, Other Questions Arise

One Catholic group says diocese still stonewalling

One piece of the sexual abuse puzzle haunting the Diocese of Charlotte fell into place last week. With the firing of Charlotte Catholic High School teacher Mark Doherty by a unanimous vote of the nine-person lay review board, the diocese took a step toward regaining the confidence of angry parishioners. Following the release of old personnel records from Boston, Doherty was fired over three separate allegations of child sexual misconduct dating back more than 25 years, the Diocese of Charlotte said. In a written statement by Doherty, also released by the diocese, he proclaimed his innocence, arguing that the allegations against him were never reported to legal officials or tried in court.It's a step in the right direction, said members of a group of frustrated parishioners who had been demanding answers from the diocese, but they say the diocese continues to stonewall on answering their questions about other sexual abuse cases in which it has paid money to victims or victim's families -- and about why Doherty was allowed to teach at Charlotte Catholic in the first place.

Last week, the group of disgruntled Catholics, all of whom wish to remain anonymous in this article but many of whom are known to church officials, submitted a list of questions to Creative Loafing. Most of these questions had already been submitted to diocese spokesperson Kevin Murray by CL over the phone two weeks ago. Murray said he would answer them as soon as he was able to contact diocese officials by phone. After Murray failed to respond, CL resubmitted the questions in writing to Murray, head diocesan administrator Monsignor Mauricio West, and Rev. James Hawker, vicar of education for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. A reply sent to CL by the diocese Monday failed to answer the majority of the questions, including:

The number of victims or victims' families that received money from the $479,439 the diocese has paid out on behalf of abuse victims since 1995.

Whether the diocese reported to local law enforcement authorities all the abuse cases in which it made payments, as church policy requires.

Whether any additional abuse cases exist in which money was not paid out.

The source of the funds the church used to make the payments.

Parents of children within the Catholic school system who have contacted CL also wanted to know what prior qualifications Doherty had for teaching religion and working with students as an athletic trainer. The response sent to CL by the diocese Monday said the credentials and qualifications of employees are private personnel records.

Another source of confusion is exactly what criteria the school system uses to screen out potential abusers, and whether those criteria were applied to Doherty. The diocese's response didn't specifically answer this question, but said the review board which terminated Doherty recommended that extensive background checks be conducted on all future candidates for teaching positions and that the diocese school system "currently has a similar policy in place."

Doherty moved to the Charlotte diocese and began teaching at Charlotte Catholic in 1997 after Church officials in the Boston diocese refused his request to be ordained as a priest because of the abuse allegations. At the time, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law wrote letters to now-retired Charlotte Bishop William Curlin informing him of the allegations against Doherty and insisting that he was "not in any position to recommend to any bishop that he accept Mr. Doherty."

In February, after the allegations about Doherty were reported by the media, diocese spokesperson Murray claimed that Law's warning letters to Curlin referred to Doherty's qualifications to become a priest, not a teacher. But a 1996 letter from Law to Doherty obtained by CL this week appears to contradict that claim.

"Mark, as you are aware, in 1993 Reverend John B. McCormack who at the time was the Delegate for these matters determined that there was reasonable probability that sexual misconduct occurred in the allegation brought forward against you," Law wrote. "When such a determination is made, the policy of the Archdiocese of Boston precludes parish ministry and ministry with minors for the cleric involved." (Italics are ours.)

At deadline, Curlin had not returned CL's call requesting comment.