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Spotlight Report

Archdiocese denies hiding background

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 5/16/2002

The Archdiocese of Boston yesterday contradicted a statement by Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina that it was told nothing about allegations of inappropriate intimate contact against a Boston priest, the Rev. George P. Berthold, before the college hired him in 1997 to head its theology department.

Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said that church officials in Boston had notified the college and the Diocese of Charlotte ''verbally and in writing'' that Berthold had been accused of inappropriate physical behavior with adult seminarians when he was dean of the undergraduate college at St. John's Seminary in 1995.

Morrissey said the notifications were made before the college in Belmont, N.C., hired Berthold.

Morrissey, however, refused to make public any of the notifications. And neither she nor the college would release a copy of the 1997 letter from Cardinal Bernard F. Law that, according to Belmont Abbey, said Berthold's record was unblemished.

Told of Morrissey's statement, the college spokeswoman, Teresa Sowers McKinney, insisted again that the college was told nothing about Berthold's misbehavior. She repeated her earlier statement that Belmont Abbey would not have hired Berthold if it had been made aware of the allegations.

Last night, the Rev. Anthony Marcaccio, vice chancellor of the Charlotte Diocese, released a statement that left open the possibility that, at least unofficially, some church officials in North Carolina were made aware of Berthold's problems.

''Information that the Archdiocese of Boston shared with us did not indicate that Father Berthold should be prevented from ministering to children or vulnerable adults,'' Marcaccio said in a statement read by Joann Keane, director of communications for the Charlotte Diocese. Keane said she could not elaborate on the statement.

The Globe reported yesterday that, according to the college, Law wrote a letter to Belmont Abbey in 1997 saying there were no problems in Berthold's past. But Law himself had approved Berthold's dismissal from St. John's in November 1995 after a seminarian complained that Berthold had made unwarranted advances toward him and kissed him on the lips.

Yesterday, a source familiar with the 1995 incident said a second seminarian came forward with similar accusations after Berthold's dismissal. Berthold's tenure at St. John's lasted only two months.

But whether or not the archdiocese informed Belmont Abbey about Berthold's misbehavior, Morrissey said she could not respond to a question about why the archdiocese allowed Berthold to teach elsewhere, given what it knew about his problems at St. John's.

Berthold lost the Belmont Abbey job in October 1998 after the archdiocese notified the college - without explanation, McKinney said - that it was withdrawing its approval for him to serve outside the Boston Archdiocese. McKinney said she did not know why college officials did not ask the archdiocese for an explanation.

That month, Berthold was summoned home after the archdiocese learned of allegations that he had molested a boy at a Woburn parish in 1972. A lawsuit on those charges was filed in 2000.

Morrissey said Berthold, who is 67, ''has been removed from all assignments and ministry in the Archdiocese of Boston due to credible allegations of misconduct.''

Whatever the Boston officials told their counterparts in Charlotte, the Belmont Abbey faculty member who chaired the committee that hired Berthold said her panel was told nothing about Berthold's problems.

Janette Blandford, who is chairman of the school's philosophy department, said the committee wondered why Berthold would leave a prestigious post at St. John's to come to Belmont Abbey, a small college on the outskirts of Charlotte that is run by the Benedictine order.

''Father Berthold told us that he had grown weary of the administrative duties of being a dean and wanted to return to his first love of teaching,'' Blandford said. He had taught theology for more than two decades at St. Anselm's College in New Hampshire, before being named dean at St. John's.

Berthold submitted a resume when he applied for the Belmont Abbey position, but McKinney said the school had not yet located it. Blandford recalled that on his resume, Berthold said he had been dean at St. John's for eight months to a year - not the two months that he spent there.

In an interview yesterday, Blandford said Abbot Placid Solari, who was then dean of the college's faculty and is now the college's chancellor, assured the committee that there were no problems in Berthold's background. Solari was unavailable for comment.

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe.com.

This story ran on page A24 of the Boston Globe on 5/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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