CHARLOTTE — A man who claims that a priest abused him in the mid-1980s has filed a civil lawsuit against the Diocese of Charlotte, contending that the diocese concealed knowledge of the priest's allegedly abusive behavior.
The lawsuit was filed July 19 in Mecklenburg County Superior Court. Attorneys Seth Langson of Charlotte and Leto Copeley of Chapel Hill announced the lawsuit in a press conference outside the county courthouse Tuesday.
The lawsuit claims that the Charlotte diocese committed fraud and negligence by concealing knowledge of child molestation by Richard Blair Farwell, 63, a suspended priest who now lives in Pompano Beach, Fla. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages of at least $10,000.
In response to the lawsuit, diocesan Director of Communication David Hains said, "We will comment on this matter at an appropriate time."
The lawsuit alleges that Farwell sexually abused the plaintiff when he was 14 and 15 years old at St. Ann Church in Charlotte. The lawsuit alleges that the diocese "knew or should have known" about other allegedly abusive behavior by Farwell and it should have protected the plaintiff.
Farwell has been suspended from ministry since 2002, following a separate allegation of abuse that was investigated in 2002 and concluded in 2004.
In 2003, Farwell was indicted in Rowan County Superior Court on two felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. The indictments stemmed from an allegation made in 2002 by a man who said Farwell abused him when he was a boy in the 1980s at Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury,
The Catholic News & Herald reported in 2002, "In February 1999, the alleged victim made an allegation that Father Richard Farwell had molested him once 19 years ago when the alleged victim was between 10 and 12 years of age. Father Farwell denied the charge and the alleged victim was informed. The diocese sought to verify the claim; the victim would not pursue the claim, stating he did not want his name publicly revealed."
In 1998 Farwell left active ministry in the Diocese of Charlotte but remained a priest of the diocese. In 2000 Farwell went to work for Food for the Poor, a Catholic charity in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
The Catholic News & Herald reported that in April 2002, the "the Diocese of Charlotte received a letter from the victim's mother stating her son was now ready to come forth." After contacting the alleged victim to verify the information, "the incident was reported to the Rowan County Department of Social Services and also referred to a diocesan committee for review."
In accordance with the new nationwide policy on responding to cases of alleged sexual misconduct – the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – the diocese then removed Farwell from ministry, meaning he could not celebrate the Mass or sacraments publicly, or wear priestly garb. The suspension remains in effect.
Farwell was fired in 2002 from Food for the Poor when the charity was informed of the abuse allegation.
In 2004, one felony charge was dismissed and the other was reduced to a misdemeanor in return for Farwell pleading no contest to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, the Catholic News & Herald reported at the time. Farwell denied any wrongdoing when he accepted the plea. He was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation and fined $1,000 plus court costs, according to a copy of the plea agreement filed with Rowan County Superior Court.
Farwell was ordained in 1981. In addition to Sacred Heart Church, he served at St. Ann Church in Charlotte, St. Aloysius Church in Hickory, St. Dorothy Church in Lincolnton and Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont; and in the Diocese of Raleigh, he served at St. Joseph Church in Burgaw and Transfiguration Mission in Wallace.
-- Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy