Local News

Recent Scandals Have Not Rocked Catholics' Faith In Church

Posted April 12, 2002

— The Catholic Church in North Carolina is no longer immune to the scandals that have rocked parishes in other parts of the country. Despite the recent scandals, the faith of many Catholics remains strong.

Monsignior John Wall has deep regret about the removal of Father Francis "Drew" Perry from a pair of parishes in Duplin and Pender Counties. Wall watched as Perry was ordained four years ago at his Cary church.

Wall said while the scandals rocking the Catholic Church have disappointed many of his members, he has received nothing but support.

"We've got lots of cards and just people meeting me in the stores and coming up here on the property," he said. "[They say] Father, we really thank you for what you are doing."

Perry, 57, has been placed on administrative leave after allegations that he had improper relations with a child.

Perry, who has served as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Burgaw and Transfiguration Parish in Wallace since July 2000, was involved 41 years ago in an incident with a relative, according to Diocese sources.

Bishop Joseph Gossman says that Perry, who was 12 years old at the time, reportedly molested a 4-year-old girl.

Gossman also says that 15 years ago, Perry was arrested and charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor, but that minor did not want to testify, so the charges were dropped.

These incidents were revealed as the result of a letter from one of Perry's family members. The letter was received by the Diocese on March 13 and was sent after reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic church surfaced nationwide.

Both alleged incidents took place prior to Perry becoming a Catholic in 1990 and being ordained a priest in June 1998.

Raleigh Diocese spokesman Frank Morock says Perry admitted the first incident but maintains his innocence in the second.

Gossman says he is prepared to do whatever it takes to deal with what he calls an "awful reality."

"It's a great blow to me personally, it's a great blow to the priests of the Diocese of Raleigh, and it's very regrettable and unfortunate," Gossman says.

"If he had told us this we probably would have had an investigation, and I would not have ordained him with something like that in his past," he says.

Instead, the local Diocese is dealing with a crisis of confidence.

"I think we have to regain people's confidence and trust in our clergy one day at a time, pastor by pastor, bishop by bishop," Gossman says.

Gossman has called for a day of prayer on Sunday, an event that was in the works before these revelations surfaced.

"I felt that I should say something to the people of our Diocese that's positive in terms of reaction ... because I haven't heard anybody say much about praying," he says.

The Bishop says Catholics are reacting in various ways.

"I think it's the biggest shock that I've had since a heart attack," says Milton Swinson, one of Perry's parishoners.

Swinson supports his former pastor.

"What happened in his past is in his past," he says. "The Catholic church has gone through a lot of stains and stuff in the past, and we'll get through this."

Nevertheless, Gossman believes parents are probably pulling their kids from catholic schools and altar boy duties. He says parents are noticeably more protective.

"I've heard priests say that when little kids come out and want to hug them -- when they're coming out of church -- that parents grab them and, 'Keep your hands off my son or daughter,'" he says.

The Bishop says he does not yet know whether the current fundraising campaign will be affected by the revelations.

Gossman wants people to know the Raleigh Diocese does not have anything to hide and is revising its policies for choosing priests.

"I think maybe some more specific steps to see that our screening of candidates for ministry are really done well and better and to use every device that we have that will help us to guarantee that," he says.

Gossman says he will solicit feedback from parishioners on what the revised policy should be.


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