Monday, January 30, 2023

Charlotte priest challenges bishop, demands reinstatement to ministry

 Bishop accepts recommendation that Fr. Hoare remain out of active ministry

An embattled priest in the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, has taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing his own bishop for recent comments on the priest’s removal from active ministry – a decision the Vatican has already upheld twice.

Father Patrick Hoare said in a Jan. 24 statement that in a recent letter to the faithful from Bishop Peter Jugis, the phrasing regarding allegations of inappropriate behavior towards minors was “inaccurate and implies an objective finding of fact that has not occurred.”

“It is very unusual for a priest to publicly question the statement of his bishop, and for three years, I have been silent, but I feel I must respond because this letter has caused real and unjust harm to my reputation,” Hoare said, claiming that he can’t go into much detail because he has a third appeal pending with the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest court.

Jugis’ Jan. 21 letter to the faithful stated that Hoare’s first appeal to the Vatican was denied in July 2021, with the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Clergy writing in a decree that the diocese had “sufficiently demonstrated grave and lasting cause for the removal” of Hoare from ministry.

As outlined in the letter, Hoare then appealed to the Apostolic Signatura, which ruled last November that the priest’s appeal was “manifestly lacking in foundation” and “must be dismissed.” 

Hoare is now making a final appeal for reinstatement to a larger panel of the Apostolic Signatura.

“It is unclear when a decision in that matter might be made, but that ruling is expected to conclude the Church proceedings involving Father Hoare,” Jugis said in the letter. “Until then, he remains on leave without ecclesiastical assignment.”

Hoare was removed as pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in December 2019.

At that time, Jugis placed Hoare on administrative leave after receiving an allegation of child sexual abuse that was said to have occurred in Pennsylvania more than 25 years ago, before Hoare entered ministry. 

A local Pennsylvania police department investigated that allegation, and a subsequent one that emerged, both of which involved accusations of inappropriate touching of relatives in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the future priest was in his teens and early 20s.

The Abington Township Police Department in Pennsylvania found the claimants to be credible, but due to the statute of limitations of the claims local authorities were unable to bring charges.

Hoare has denied both allegations.

Jugis later announced in a July 2020 letter that he would follow the recommendation of the diocese’s independent lay review board to keep Hoare out of active ministry, after the board’s investigation found instances in which there was troubling behavior exhibited by Hoare towards minors from his time as a priest in the Diocese of Charlotte, where he was ordained a priest in 2007.

“These complaints were reported recently and did not constitute sexual abuse but involved a hug, rubbing the shoulders or abdomen of a minor, and being ‘very touchy,’” Jugis wrote in the July 2020 letter, noting that the diocese hadn’t received any sexual abuse allegations against Hoare from his time in the diocese.

Jugis nonetheless said the review board concluded, that those behaviors “represented boundary violations that raised questions about Father Hoare’s judgment.”

Jugis formally removed Hoare as pastor of St. Matthew in December 2020. He issued a decree to do so, which is required under church law.

In his Jan. 24 statement, Hoare highlighted that Jugis has stated that no credible allegation of sexual abuse has been identified, or received by the diocese, and therefore he should be allowed to return to ministry. 

He didn’t go into any specifics, including the behaviors identified by the diocesan review board, citing the ongoing appeal.

Hoare said, however, that he will continue his efforts to reach out to Jugis to try and come to an “equitable resolution to the situation on a local level.”

Hoare’s Jan. 24 statement was posted to a petition in his support. The petition has received about 1,700 signatures to return Hoare to active status as St. Matthew’s pastor. The petition was created by the group “Friends of Fr. Pat Hoare” in June 2020.

“I have never ceased to pray daily for the parishioners of St. Matthew Parish, as well as the people of the Diocese of Charlotte, whom I have served faithfully as both a member of the clergy and a lay minister for more than 28 years, and most especially children and vulnerable adults who have endured abuse,” Hoare said in his Jan. 24 statement.

“I also continue to pray for the bishop in his challenging role as our spiritual father,” he added. “I stand in solidarity with my brother priests who suffer profoundly due to false allegations.”