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From Boston to Charlotte 

Possible pedophilia scandal should incense local Catholics

Unlike most kids who grew up in Charlotte, I felt as if I was raised in a small town. Like other Catholic kids who grew up in what at the time was Charlotte's small, insular Catholic community, we just didn't mix well with the natives. Our accents were too flat, our backgrounds -- which usually involved a move from somewhere Up North -- were still considered sketchy. Other kids in the neighborhood stared at our plaid uniforms like we were creatures from outer space.Twenty years ago, being Catholic in Charlotte meant that no matter how financially successful you were, certain social doors in Charlotte were closed to you. Socially and professionally speaking, it would have been much easier for the folks who built Charlotte's Catholic churches and sprawling Catholic school system to forget their religious roots and attend one of the "right" churches on Sunday. Instead, those who could afford it, and many more who couldn't, dug deep into their wallets to build a bustling school system for their kids and those who would come after. Though I was young, I remember those struggles and the enthusiasm of those who made up the deeply religious, close-knit core that built it all.

Charlotte's Catholics did all this because they believed in the religion, in the church, in the diocese and in the ordained clergy who ran it. Our churches became local landmarks we could be proud of. When families couldn't afford to send their kids to our schools, the parish always found the money. Our priests and nuns wanted for nothing. And when Bishop William Curlin, who oversaw the Diocese of Charlotte, blessed us with his presence at mass, he was treated with reverence and respect befitting a king. What he asked for from us -- for the poor, for the church or for the diocese -- he got.

And for all this, it now appears that he willingly betrayed every one of us. Last week, old personnel records discovered by attorneys for the alleged rape victims of a Boston priest made their way into the public eye. Contained within them were allegations of the molestation of five children by Mark Doherty, who would later become a teacher at Charlotte Catholic High School. In 1993, two men accused Doherty of molesting them as teenagers on a 1977 camping trip. In 1994, a mother accused him of molesting her three sons.

Because the Boston diocese "determined there was a reasonable probability that sexual misconduct occurred," it barred Doherty, who was then a seminarian, from being ordained a priest. But the allegations apparently weren't considered serious enough by the church to prevent Doherty from being hired to teach at Charlotte Catholic.

Despite the fact that the now infamous Cardinal Bernard F. Law fought Doherty's transfer to the Charlotte diocese and repeatedly warned Curlin about Doherty's past in a series of letters, Curlin actively worked to bring him here, saying he was "willing to take a chance." Willing, apparently, to take a chance on the safety of the children who had been entrusted to him by the people of this diocese.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this affair was the fact that, even as the pedophilia scandals broke across the nation, none of those who knew about Doherty's past bothered to reopen his record or remove him from his teaching position at Charlotte Catholic, my alma mater. It took an inadvertent public disclosure to force the Charlotte Diocese to act.

Doherty requested last week that he be put on administrative leave from Charlotte Catholic High School until a diocesan review board looks into allegations that stretch back to 1977. The current head of the diocese -- Curlin retired in September -- didn't bother to wait for the outcome of that inquiry to defend the decision to allow Doherty to teach at the school. Instead, Monsignor Mauricio West told the Charlotte Observer he hoped that Doherty could return to the classroom. West told the Boston Globe that Doherty "poses no threat to children."

For the love of God, what is wrong with these people?! If Doherty really is such a great guy, they ought to return him to the classroom right away, and ordain him while they're at it.

The bottom line is that Charlotte's Catholic parishioners cannot allow this to be swept under the rug. Given Curlin's apparently dismissive attitude about pedophilia, those parishioners must demand, as should local authorities, a check into the background of every priest, deacon and male educator currently serving this diocese, including Monsignor West and the equally lackadaisical Rev. James Hawker, vicar of education for the diocese, who told the Observer that there was no problem, as the church saw it, with Doherty teaching at the school.

I suggest that, following the example of parishioners in Boston, the collection basket remain empty on Sunday until this is done. And if they still don't get it, parents should think long and hard about whether a Catholic education in this diocese is still the right choice for their child.

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