Priest scandal has Gaston County ties
By Michael Barrett
February 19, 2019
A recently released list of Catholic priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors includes the names of two men who served in Gaston County in the 1970s and 1990s.
One of those priests, Donald Scales, allegedly committed the sexual offense as a pastoral minister at St. Michael Catholic Church in Gastonia in the late 1970s. The accusation against the other priest, Frederick George, allegedly occurred in the same time period while he was serving at a parish in Richmond, Virginia.
Both Scales and George are former Benedictine monks with ties to Belmont Abbey in Belmont, as well as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. They were among 43 diocesan and religious order clergy members whose names were released last week by Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond, based on records showing they each had “a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse involving a minor.”
|The cathedral and campus of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont.
Scales died in 2008, two years after his accuser first reported the abuse to church leaders.
George is still living, though he has not served in priestly ministry since 1998. After the allegation against him was first reported in 1987, he was later allowed to return to Belmont Abbey in 1991 as a hospital chaplain, and he remained active as the chaplain of the college from 1994 to 1997.
Officials with Belmont Abbey and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte each addressed the local connections publicly for the first time Monday and conceded past missteps. Chancellor Abbot Placid Solari of Belmont Abbey distributed a two-page statement to members of the college community, including students, faculty, alumni and board members. The Charlotte Diocese responded primarily through a story on its Catholic News Herald website.
Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis expressed “profound regret for the apparent sexual abuse of a minor that occurred at St. Michael Parish in Gastonia approximately 40 years ago.” Solari said “the only way to move beyond the disaster and the hurt and the damage this has done is to try to be transparent and honest.”
“Clerical sexual abuse has caused grave damage to victims, has damaged the church and its mission, and is a source of shame to all of us who seek to live and minister with integrity,” said Solari. “While we cannot undo actions and decisions of the past, we are deeply contrite that former monks of our community have credible allegations of harm to others.”
Allegation against Scales
Prior to 1989, the parish of St. Michael Catholic Church was staffed by Belmont Abbey, so it was typical for monks from the abbey to serve there.
“I served there from 1979 to 1980, and as a newly ordained priest from 1980 to 1982,” said Solari. “It was not unusual for us to spend some time in pastoral ministry as deacons at St. Michael.”
Scales entered Belmont Abbey for the first time in 1948. From 1975 to 1980, he served in various positions at Belmont Abbey College and in pastoral work in North Carolina, primarily at St. Michael Catholic Church. He transferred in 1980 to St. Benedict Priory in Richmond, and remained with that community when it became independent of Belmont Abbey in 1989.
Solari was elected as the eighth abbot of Belmont Abbey in 1999. In 2006, he said he was informed of an allegation of sexual abuse by Scales while he had been at St. Michael. The accuser sent a letter about the incident to the administrator of the church, who then forwarded it on to Solari. Solari said he passed the allegation on to the Charlotte Diocese and informed the superior of the monastery in Richmond.
“Notice of the allegation was also sent at that time to the office of Child Protective Services of the Department of Social Services in Gaston County,” he said.
No details about the allegation itself were available, and the person reporting the allegation did not want further action taken or to be contacted further, said Catholic Diocese of Charlotte spokesman David Hains.
The lay review board of the Charlotte diocese investigated the allegation and judged it to be credible, and Bishop Peter Jugis communicated that to the superior of the Richmond monastery, Solari said.
Scales was elderly and infirm by 2006, and was no longer involved in pastoral ministry. When confronted with the allegation, he denied it, Solari said.
Despite sharing the credible allegation with the Richmond monastery, the Charlotte Diocese declined to inform past or present parishioners of St. Michael of the alleged incident in the late 1970s. Hains said he could not explain why that didn’t take place.
“There were no hard and fast rules on this. It’s a very legitimate question,” he said. “Because we’re talking about something that was almost 13 years ago, I do not have an answer for you.”
Hains said the diocese is unaware of any other allegations involving Scales.
George’s return to Belmont
George served the church as a deacon at St. Michael for six months in 1975. He was then assigned to St. Benedict Priory in Richmond from 1975 to 1987.
In November of 1987, the Richmond Diocese was contacted by parents who alleged that George had abused their son at the Richmond parish in the late 1970s. George was removed as pastor of St. Benedict and left residence at the monastery, Solari said.
He was briefly assigned by the bishop there to other pastoral ministry in the diocese, before he removed himself in 1988 from ministry and religious life for several years.
In 1991, George then returned to Belmont Abbey, receiving certification as a hospital chaplain and serving at Mercy Hospital from 1992 to 1994.
“As was a usual practice at the time — very different from the current policy — he received two separate comprehensive psychological evaluations and two letters of suitability from two different psychologists,” said Solari.
|Belmont Abbey Chancellor Placid Solari
George was then appointed chaplain at Belmont Abbey College from 1994 to 1997. He left the ministry in 1998 to care for his ailing mother, and was permanently dismissed by the Holy See in 2004.
Solari was not the abbot at the time, but said George’s return to Belmont Abbey in 1991 was likely based on him being a member of its religious community, despite the allegation he had faced.
“We don’t kick out sinners, or there wouldn’t be anyone in our community,” he said.
George would not have been in ready contact with minors in his role as a hospital or college chaplain, Solari said. But he said after the priest sex abuse scandal came to public light in 2002, George’s return to Belmont Abbey in that capacity never would have been allowed. And psychological evaluations would not be used as the basis for such a decision, he said.
“He would never be allowed in any type of ministry now, in any way shape or form,” Solari said.
The decision of the Richmond Diocese last week to release the names of all credibly accused priests has not been mimicked everywhere. The Charlotte diocese, for example, has declined to take that step.
“It is being considered,” said Hains. “But no decision has been made.”
When the Richmond Diocese released its list last week, George’s name was initially included, but Scales’ was not. Solari made the decision to disclose the credible allegation against Scales at that point, after realizing the diocese had never been made aware of it in 2006 or afterward.
“Not to have disclosed this information now would have been a continuation of the cover-ups that have increased the pain of victims and compromised the credibility and mission of the church,” he said. “If we are to end the crisis of clerical sexual abuse, we must have transparent and honest communication regarding allegations of sexual abuse.”
While there are no allegations involving monks working in Belmont today, Solari said he is moving forward with an independent investigation of personnel files to make sure there are no other credible allegations.
You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or on Twitter @GazetteMike.