North Carolina diocese, priest named in sexual abuse lawsuit

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina diocese and a former priest have been named in a lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse involving a boy at an elementary school that spanned four years.

The lawsuit was filed in Mecklenburg County by attorneys representing the plaintiff, who is identified only as John Doe J.C. Among those named as defendants are the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools and the Rev. Francis P. Gillespie.

The Charlotte diocese said in a statement that Gillespie’s supervising religious order, the Jesuits, assigned him to ministry in the Diocese of Raleigh in 2002 and removed him from ministry on Sept. 29 while the allegation is investigated, which is standard procedure and should not imply guilt, WBTV reported. An independent review of personnel and other files in 2019 found no record of allegations from anyone against Gillespie, according to the statement.

According to the lawsuit, while the boy was a student at Our Lady of Assumption Elementary School in Charlotte, he became friendly with Gillespie, the parish priest of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

The lawsuit says Gillespie convinced the boy, who was 8 at the time, that he was special and allowed the boy to assist at Mass despite the fact that he wasn’t an altar server.

The lawsuit accuses the priest of regularly sexually assaulting the boy in the church sacristy after gaining his trust. The suit also said Gillespie told the boy not to tell anyone. The assaults began sometime in the 1996-1997 school year and continued through the 1999-2000 school year, according to the suit.

“Plaintiff kept the abuse to himself initially because of Gillespie’s warning and feelings of helplessness and thereafter due to ongoing feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment,” according to the lawsuit.

Richard M. Serbin, the attorney representing John Doe J.C. said passage of the Safe Child Act has given his client an opportunity to seek justice, but the window of opportunity closes on Dec. 31.

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