Local News

Wilmington Pastor Arrested Previously In Raleigh For Sex Acts

Posted April 19, 2002 3:29 a.m. EDT

— Diocese officials have confirmed that in March of 1981,

Rev. James Behan

was arrested for sexual misconduct in a downtown Raleigh park. He was found not guilty, but was required to undergo six years of counseling.

Bishop F. Joseph Gossman removed Behan from his post this week, after receiving a call from a Florida man who accused Behan of sexual misconduct.

Gossman placed the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Wilmington on administrative leave Wednesday morning.

Behan, 58, was relieved of his duties as pastor after Gossman was notified of what he calls "a credible allegation of abusive sexual behavior that took place nearly 25 years ago."

"I have not spoken to him directly, but it has been reported to me by those who did and it seems, without any doubt, to be very credible, unfortunately," Gossman said.

The incident involved a teenage boy in high school and occurred in Pennsylvania, Gossman said.

Behan is a member of the Oblates of Francis de Sales and has been pastor of Immaculate Conception since 1993.

Still, parishoners of the small coastal parish credit Behan with doing much good.

"People have been here all day long, coming in and out, expressing support, 'Can we write Jim? Can I tell him how much I love him? How much I miss him?'" church member Roger Polletti said.

Poletti credits Behan with taking the parish from 120 families nine years ago to 1,200 families today.

Before serving in Wilmington, Behan was associate pastor of St. Paul Parish in New Bern for one year. From April 1981 until June 1992 he served as pastor of Holy Infant Parish in Durham. When he first came to North Carolina in August 1980, Behan was assigned to the UNC Newman Center.

Last week, the Diocese removed the

Rev. Francis Perry

from two parishes in Duplin and Pender counties after determining he had lied on paperwork about his past.

Diocesan officials said Perry, 57, was charged 15 years ago with taking indecent liberties with a minor. The charge was dropped when the victim refused to testify, and Perry denied committing the act. The diocese said he did not deny an accusation that he abused a 4-year-old female relative 41 years ago.

Gossman said that since Easter, the diocese has received three additional notifications of alleged incidents dating back more than 25 years.

Gossman says they are currently investigating these complaints and will investigate all "credible allegation concerning abusive sexual behavior by a clergy person."

The third accusation was made against "one of our pastors. The event is alleged to have taken place about 20 years ago when the priest, who was a religious then, was serving in another diocese (not in North Carolina)," Gossman said.

Gossman said that he encourages parishoners to come forward with their concerns.

"I think if we're going to have an honest response, and one that is not done in this cloud of secrecy that has prevailed, then we have to ask people to speak up if they really have something we need to know about, and we will investigate," he said.

Gossman said that while he is concerned about the accusations, his "thoughts and prayers are in a special way for the healing and care of anyone who is the victim of abuse and the families that are involved."

"The sacred trust that has been broken by a few priests will not be tolerated," Gossman reiterated. "I remain vigilant in protecting the reputation of all the good, holy priests who have been betrayed by a few."

Gossman said that recruiting is already very strict, and they will do all they can to improve the screening process.

"I personally feel that during a time of a clergy shortage the worst thing we could do is to lessen our screening. It needs to get tighter when there's a shortage, and we're going to make it as tight as I can make it as long as I am bishop here," he said.

Gossman also said the policy regarding where and how clergy could be alone with minors would be revised by the beginning of summer.

"I can offer them my promise that I will do anything and everything to do the best possible thing to protect their children," he said.