WNC Catholic Clergy Among Those 'Credibly Accused' Of Child Sexual Abuse

Dec 30, 2019

The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte has named 14 former clergy members it considers "credibly accused" of sexually abusing children. The 14 clergy members all served in the diocese since 1972, when the diocese — which covers the western half of the state – formed.  The clergy members named on the list were removed from ministry years ago or died before allegations against them were made. 

Three clergy members on the list served in Western North Carolina:

Note:  All clergy information and case details are from the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte Accountability website 

Charles Jeffries “Jeff” Burton   WNC Location: Youth Ministry Center, Flat Rock, N.C. In May of 1994, an adult male reported to the Diocese of Charlotte that Burton made advances and inappropriately touched him in 1982 at a youth ministry center in Flat Rock, when he was 17. Burton had been assigned by his supervising religious order, the Maryland Province of Jesuits, to work in the Charlotte diocese, and was appointed co-director of diocesan youth ministry in Flat Rock. At the time the allegation arose in 1994, Burton had not worked in the diocese for more than a decade. The diocese reported the allegation to his supervising religious order. The Jesuits sent Burton for treatment and then returned him to ministry in New Jersey, the order said in a 2007 statement. The Flat Rock allegation resurfaced in 2007 when the Jesuits conducted a review of their personnel files. The Jesuits said Burton acknowledged the incident and they removed him from ministry. He died in 2011.

Michael Joseph Kelleher   - WNC Location:   Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Hendersonville, N.C    In January of 2010, the Diocese of Charlotte contacted Stanly County authorities after learning of an allegation of sexual abuse against Kelleher posted on an online message board. The anonymous writer alleged he had been abused by Kelleher at Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Albemarle in 1977, when he was 14 and Kelleher was pastor there. Kelleher had been retired since 1999, but still served occasionally at Holy Cross Catholic Church and Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in Kernersville. The Charlotte diocese investigated and in June of 2010 removed Kelleher’s priestly faculties. In July Albemarle police charged him with one felony count of taking indecent liberties with a child. Kelleher admitted the abuse in a police interview, according to Stanly County Superior Court documents. However, the judge declared ailing Kelleher not competent to stand trial and dismissed the case in July in 2014. Kelleher died a month later. After Kelleher was charged, others came forward to allege Kelleher had also abused them as minors in the 1970s and 1980s, including additional victims in Charlotte and Hendersonville. Law enforcement in Charlotte and Henderson County investigated the claims but did not pursue charges. The diocese’s Lay Review Board found the allegations credible.

Justin Paul Pechulis -  WNC Location: St. Lawrence Catholic Church (now Basilica), Asheville, N.C.  In 2008, a civil lawsuit was filed in Buncombe County Superior Court against the Diocese of Charlotte and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by a man alleging he was sexually assaulted at St. Lawrence Catholic Church (now Basilica) in Asheville in 1976 or 1977. The man said he was 15 or 16 at the time of the abuse and named as his assailants Pechulis, who was deceased, as well as a Philadelphia priest and a third unidentified man. Pechulis, a Pennsylvania native and friend of the Philadelphia priest, was pastor of St. Lawrence Catholic Church at the time of the alleged assault. Although Pechulis had died in 1983, civil authorities were notified in Philadelphia and Asheville. Both the Philadelphia and Charlotte review boards investigated the allegation. The Charlotte diocese’s Lay Review Board found the allegation credible in 2008. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2010.

The diocese also named six clergy members who served  before the formation of the Charlotte Diocese when the Diocese of Raleigh oversaw the Catholic Church across North Carolina. The six pre-Charlotte Diocese clergy members — all of whom are dead — named are Andre Anthony Corbin Jr., Hugh J. Dolan, John Gallagher, John Joseph Hyland, William J. Kuder and Edward William Smith. Corbin and Yurgel were both convicted of crimes.  

Corbin and  Kuder served in schools and churches in Western North Carolina:

Andre Anthony Corbin, Jr., WNC Location: Gibbons Hall for Boys, Asheville, N.C - Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Brevard, N.C  In 1983, the Diocese of Charlotte received an allegation against Corbin of sexual abuse in 1966 at Gibbons Hall for Boys in Asheville – when the Diocese of Raleigh oversaw the Catholic Church across the entire state. The Raleigh diocese had deemed Corbin unfit for a ministerial assignment in 1970 after alleged abuse at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School, then located in Winston-Salem. Corbin moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, and remained out of ministry. The Charlotte diocese inherited supervision of Corbin when it was established in 1972. Although the diocese never assigned Corbin to any ministry, he sometimes made unsanctioned arrangements to assist parishes in the Diocese of Springfield. In 1986, after renewed contact with the Asheville abuse victim, the Charlotte diocese alerted the Springfield diocese that Corbin was living unassigned within the territory of their diocese and that abuse had been alleged. In 1988, Asheville police charged Corbin in connection with the abuse. The Charlotte diocese formally removed Corbin’s faculties to function as a priest. In 1989, Corbin admitted the abuse and pleaded guilty in Buncombe County Superior Court to one felony count of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He served two months in prison followed by probation and treatment. Additional credible allegations of abuse in the 1960s by Corbin in Brevard and Winston-Salem were reported in following years. Other allegations of abuse also in the 1960s in Springfield and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, were reported in civil lawsuits in Massachusetts in 2004 and 2008. Corbin died in 2008.

William J. Kuder , WNC Location: St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, (former location) West Asheville, N.C In March of 1995, the Diocese of Charlotte notified parishioners of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church that it had received allegations against Kuder of sexual abuse of minor boys dating from the 1950s. Kuder had been pastor of the parish and its school from 1949 until his death in 1960. The west Asheville-area parish was under the supervision of the Diocese of Raleigh at the time but became part of the Charlotte diocese when it was established in 1972.  Raleigh Bishop Joseph Gossman and Charlotte Bishop William Curlin, both now deceased, found the allegations credible and publicly apologized for Kuder’s crimes in a joint statement in 1995. The joint statement was the culmination of discussions with some of Kuder’s victims that originated in 1992, when the first victim came forward asking Church leaders to denounce Kuder publicly, take steps to identify and assist other victims, and commit to preventing any further abuse of children. After the bishops’ statement in 1995, numerous additional victims came forward to report having been abused by Kuder. The Lay Review Board for the Charlotte diocese referred the case to the Raleigh diocese, which reported the allegations to law enforcement although no criminal charges could be filed. In 2018 the Raleigh diocese publicly named Kuder on its list of clergy credibly accused of child abuse.

The complete list of former Charlotte Diocese clergy members:

  • Donald Philip Baker
  • Charles Jeffries Burton
  • Eugene D. Corbesero
  • Aloysius Joseph D'Silva
  • Richard B. Farwell
  • P. Patrick Gavigan
  • Adelbert "Del" Holmes
  • Donald J. Joyce
  • Michael Joseph Kelleher
  • Peter Tan Van Le
  • Damion Jacques Lynch
  • Justin Paul Pechulis
  • Donald Francis Scales
  • Robert Yurgel

The diocese says that it found no credible accusations against any current clergy members. The diocese also named 23 clergy members who served in the Charlotte Diocese without reported incident but were included on other dioceses' lists. 

“It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior,” Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis said Monday in a prepared statement accompanying the release of the list. “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.”

From Dashiell Coleman/WFAE

There are 178 Catholic dioceses in the United States. The Charlotte Diocese was, until today, one of about 30 that hadn't released a list of credibly accused clergy. It joins at least 146 dioceses and 20 religious order provinces in disclosing names, according to BishopAccountability.org, a nonprofit that compiles public documents about the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.

The first diocese to release such a list was the Diocese of Tucson in Arizona, in 2002. The lists vary in how much detail they provide.

In Charlotte's case, Huntersville investigative firm U.S. ISS Agency examined thousands of documents from the diocese. Findings were reviewed by a lay board composed of members appointed by Jugis, and then Jugis has authority to decide which accusations were credible.

Clergy members who've been credibly accused are removed from the ministry, according to the diocese. The list could grow or otherwise change based on new information, the Charlotte Diocese said.

The Diocese of Charlotte was established in 1972 and it includes 46 counties in the western half of North Carolina. That means 92 parishes and missions, 19 schools and the St. Joseph College Seminary in Charlotte. Before 1972, all of North Carolina's Catholic parishes fell under the purview Diocese of Raleigh. Today, the Raleigh Diocese encompasses 56 counties in the eastern part of the state.

Both dioceses – along with the dioceses of Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, and the Archdiocese of Atlanta – fall under the Catholic Ecclesiastical Province of Atlanta.

Charlotte was the holdout. The dioceses of RaleighCharleston and Savannah and the Atlanta Archdiocese already released lists.

This month, WFAE released an investigative podcast series, "The List," focusing on the process of Catholic dioceses releasing names of credibly accused clergy. The series, hosted and reported by Sarah Delia, also examines the impact of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church – including in the Charlotte Diocese.

The Charlotte Diocese has created a hotline for reporting abuse.