CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The new second-in-command of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte outlined a plan to reporters Monday morning to increase transparency surrounding how the local church handles cases in which priests and other clergy are accused of sex abuse.
Father Patrick Winslow was appointed as chancellor and vicar general of the diocese in April and officially assumed the role earlier this summer.
Winslow’s appointment came after his predecessor, longtime chancellor and vicar general Father Mauricio West, resigned in the wake of being found to have credibly been accused of sexual harassment involving adults.
On Monday, Winslow spent roughly an hour talking with reporters about what the diocese has done to address priest sex abuse, what it is currently doing and what it hopes to do moving forward.
“I would say this approach is part of my coming into this role,” Winslow said when asked what prompted the new, proactive approach between the diocese and the media.
“We can communicate a lot better than we have,” he continued.
Winslow’s briefing comes as WBTV and other local media have spent the past year uncovering a string of revelations involving the way in which the church has responded to allegations of sexual abuse against priests.
Previously, a spokesman for the diocese would frequently refuse to respond to a story or, when he did, offer a combative interview that frequently involved attacking reporters for their questions.
Earlier this year, Bishop Peter Jugis announced the diocese would release a list of all clergy that have been credibly accused of sexual abuse since the diocese’s creation in 1972.
At the time of the announcement, Jugis said he hoped to release the list by the end of the year. At his briefing on Monday, Winslow said that is still the goal.
Winslow said the diocese has hired an outside, independent investigative agency to review the personnel files of every priest and deacon that has ever worked in the diocese, including those from orders who were assigned to minister in the diocese.
“As far as a publication of a comprehensive list, you want to get it right,” Winslow said of the time and resources the diocese is investing into the process of compiling the list, pointing out that other dioceses have released lists that later had to be updated with additional names and information.
While Winslow said Jugis now supports releasing a list of credibly accused clergy, he did not always support such a move.
Previously, a spokesman for the diocese said the bishop did not believe releasing such a list would be helpful to victims, even as other dioceses around the country were releasing such lists.
“It’s been an evolution process of our bishop,” Winslow said. “He did have to come around to the idea, after speaking with victims.”
Winslow, who has previously served as an ex officio adviser to the diocese’s lay review board—the board tasked with reviewing allegations of sexual abuse against clergy—said the diocese has a zero tolerance policy for any priest accused of sexual abuse.
Winslow said 20 priests have been publicly identified as having been credibly accused of sexual abuse since 2002 but could not say how many have been accused in total.
The US Conference of Bishops issued guidelines for the handling of sexual abuse complaints in 2002, which Winslow said the diocese has followed ever since.
Prior to that time, he said, the diocese did not always handle reports of abuse as appropriately as they could have.
“I think there have been shortcomings in the past,” he said. “I would say, broadly speaking, the way in which cases were handled were not, by any means, adequate.”