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Head Of Raleigh Diocese: National Policy Seen As First Step In Healing Process

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RALEIGH, N.C. — It has been a few weeks since Catholic leaders from across the state met in Dallas to discuss how to handle priests who abuse parishioners. The head of the Raleigh Diocese, Bishop F. Joseph Gossman, talked about the conference Wednesday in public for the first time.

Bishop Gossman said the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is an important step in ridding the Catholic Church of the scourge of sexual abuse. In the past few months, three priests from the Raleigh Diocese -- Father Francis "Drew" Perry of Burgaw, Rev. James Behan of Wilmington and Rev. Thomas Watkins of Wendell -- have been removed from their posts after allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Priests in the Raleigh Diocese have lived with a strict sexual abuse policy since the 1980s.

The national charter calls for a person to be removed from his post within a church when an allegation is made. If the allegation is found to be true, that person can no longer serve as a priest.

Gossman said the national policy is the first step in the healing process for the Catholic Church.

"We are very serious in our effort to make sure that we eliminate this scourge that currently has existed in our church," Gossman said. "I think it means we are trying to win back the trust and confidence and credibility that I think we have lost."

Since the national conference ended in Dallas, another priest in the Raleigh diocese has been accused of inappropriate behavior. Gossman would not reveal the name of the person, but said the allegations are old ones that have recently resurfaced. He said the victim does not want to press charges and the priest has been retired for more than a decade.

A new review board will also be formed to investigate old and new allegations against priests in the Catholic Church.