The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte released a list Monday of 14 clergy members—including two who served at St. John Baptist de La Salle in North Wilkesboro—whom it said have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse in western North Carolina.
The two priests on the list who served at the Catholic church in North Wilkesboro are Justin Paul Pechulis and Kenneth R. Parker. Both are accused of inflicting abuse after leaving North Wilkesboro for other parishes.
The diocese, on its website, said that the “credibly accused” allegations are “a result of action by civil authorities, findings by the diocese’s Lay Review Board, or as the result of a comprehensive review of the diocese’s personnel and other files by independent investigators in 2019.”
Parker served in 1965 and 1966 at St. John. His first assignment after being ordained in 1965 was missionary apostolate there from June 1965 to June 1966, when he was named assistant pastor at a parish in Greensboro. He served eight other parishes before retiring in 1993.
On Jan. 24, 2010, Parker was suspended from ministry by the Rev. Michael F. Burbridge, Bishop of Raleigh, after allegations of abuse were made, dating back to 1982 in a Newton Grove parish. Parker denied the allegations in 2010.
Pechulis was ordained in 1958 and served at St. John from 1968 to 1973. When he was reassigned to St. Peter’s church in Charlotte, he was replaced at St. John by Father Francis Donahue, who was later murdered inside the church on June 28, 1974. From the time of his ordination, Pechulis served a total of 12 parishes until 1977. He died unexpectedly at age 53 in April 1983.
In 2008, a civil lawsuit was filed against the Charlotte diocese and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by a man claiming he was sexually assaulted at the St. Lawrence Catholic Church (now basilica) in Asheville in 1976 or 1977 when the accuser was 15 or 16 years old and Pechulis was pastor. The allegation was found credible by the Charlotte diocese’s Lay Review Board in 2008 and the lawsuit was dismissed in 2010.
According to the lawsuit, the accuser said he was abused by a Philadelphia priest, John McCole, who took the boy on a trip to Asheville, where Pechulis was pastor of St. Lawrence. McCole and Pechulis were friends from seminary. The alleged victim said the two priests forced him to participate in group oral sex, and a third man watched while masturbating.
According to a June 2, 2009, article in the Philadelphia Daily News, Cardinal John Krol, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the time, dismissed the accusations, telling the accuser that the alleged victim “was not being touched inappropriately. . .. That’s just how men behave with each other.”
Most of the incidents listed Monday allegedly occurred decades ago, and the diocese said all 14 accused clergy members were subsequently removed from ministry or died before allegations arose. The diocese said that no clergy now working have been credibly accused of molesting minors and that no credible cases of abuse has been alleged in 20 years.
The diocese, serving more than 400,000 Catholics in 46 counties, also released a list of 23 clergy members who served the Charlotte diocese without incident but were accused of misconduct elsewhere and six accused clergy who served in western North Carolina before the diocese was formed in 1972.
St. John Baptist de La Salle in North Wilkesboro became part of the Charlotte diocese when it was started in 1971. The Charlotte diocese was established on Nov. 12, 1971.