It’s disconcerting — and maddening — to learn that five Catholic priests with connections to Winston-Salem and Forsyth County were accused of child sexual abuse — accusations that were deemed credible — in a report released Monday by the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. It’s hard to imagine a worse betrayal of trust than that perpetrated by religious authorities — charged with serving as spiritual guides and examples for our youth — who misuse their positions to benefit their perverted sexual desires.
“It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior,” Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis wrote in a letter Monday. “However, in speaking with survivors and hearing their stories, it is clear to me that making known the names of their abusers can promote healing for them and their families.”
It’s a small mercy — very small — to learn that the abuse committed by four of the five — Louis A. Bonacci, Harold V. McGovern, William G. Ward and Joseph Kelleher — is alleged to have been committed elsewhere, in another area of the state or in other states, as the Journal’s Michael Hewlett and Wesley Young reported Tuesday. That they saved their perversions for other regions is cold comfort to the parishioners who knew and trusted these men here.
The fifth, Andre Anthony Corbin, was alleged to have sexually abused children while he served as chaplain at Bishop McGuinness, which was in Winston-Salem in the 1960s and 1970s before moving to Kernersville. (He also served at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Winston-Salem.) In 1970, after accusations came to light, Corbin was deemed unfit for ministry by the Raleigh diocese. In 1983, the Charlotte Diocese received an allegation about Corbin that dated back to 1966, when he served at the Gibbons Hall for Boys in Asheville. In 1988, Asheville police charged him in connection with the abuse. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of indecent liberties with a minor and served two months in prison, followed by probation and treatment, Blue Ridge Public Radio reported Monday. Corbin died in 2008.
In all, the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte named 19 former clergy members it considered “credibly” accused of sexually abusing children who served in North Carolina. All of them have been removed from ministry or have died.
The Catholic church worldwide has suffered what seems to some to be a veritable epidemic of priests who have committed sexual crimes against minors in their charge. It’s still largely a mystery how such a thing could happen and how the Catholic church could have undertaken efforts, at times — as revealed by the Boston Globe’s landmark 2002 “Spotlight” investigation — to hide the problem and protect its representatives. These were crimes. The perpetrators deserved punishment.
Lest anyone think so, sexual abuse by spiritual leaders is hardly a uniquely Catholic problem. Allegations against Protestant ministers, and those of other religions, have come to light in high numbers in recent years.
It shouldn’t be surprising if more allegations surface. The Charlotte Diocese has created a website for reporting further incidents of abuse: https://login.redflagreporting.com/RCDOC
It can be difficult for young victims of sexual abuse to come forward. Not only do such crimes carry an air of shame, but victims may fear they won’t be believed when accusing revered figures. They also often feel a responsibility to protect the authority figures they identify with the divine, even if they’ve suffered at their hands.
Parents must be vigilant about those in whose care they entrust their children, and must listen to their children with compassion when they come forward. The priority, always, must be to protect young people from exploitation — even if it involves confronting unpleasant truths.