A Vatican legal battle over the status of the suspended former pastor of Charlotte’s largest Catholic church has taken an unusually public turn with Rev. Patrick Hoare accusing his bishop of making misleading and inaccurate statements about the case.
Hoare’s extraordinary rebuttal of Bishop Peter Jugis was published Tuesday on a Change.org petition set up by parishioners of St. Matthew Church in Ballantyne, one of the largest Catholic communities in the country. Hoare became pastor in 2017.
It follows a Jugis letter updating Hoare’s status that was sent out to church members over the weekend and also read aloud at weekend masses.
In it, Jugis says that Hoare lost his second appeal to reverse his 2020 removal by the bishop as pastor of St. Matthew and quotes a ruling by the Vatican’s highest court rejecting Hoare’s legal challenge.
Hoare (pronounced HAR) responded Tuesday by criticizing the content of Jugis’ letter, the bishop’s first update on Hoare’s case in more than two years.
“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 wrote.
While the former pastor said he could not go into full detail given the ongoing nature of his appeal, Hoare said the bishop’s statement about the allegations against him is “inaccurate and implies an objective finding of fact that has not occurred, and, furthermore, the letter does not reflect the totality of the results of the canonical appeals to date.”
Hoare said he will “continue my efforts to reach out to the Bishop for an equitable resolution on a local level, to avoid the inevitable delay that comes with a Vatican process. I also continue to pray for the Bishop in his challenging role as spiritual father.”
But Hoare added: “I stand in solidarity with my brother priests who suffer profoundly due to false allegations.”
The Diocese of Charlotte, which serves Catholics in 46 counties across western North Carolina, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Charlotte Observer.
Hoare’s removal has been doused in years of controversy and long periods of silence. It has also played out against the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church that continues worldwide.
Hoare was first suspended in 2019 when he was accused of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, allegedly involving an incident that occurred years before Hoare became a priest.
Hoare has denied the allegation, and a subsequent investigation by a review board within the Diocese of Charlotte found “no specific incident of sexual abuse of a minor” by the priest, according to Jugis.
Nonetheless, Jugis removed Hoare as pastor based on three complaints of Hoare having inappropriate and “very touchy” physical contact with minors — a hug, rubbing shoulders or the stomach — behavior which “represented boundary violations that raised questions about Father Hoare’s judgment,” the bishop said.
The incidents allegedly occurred at St. Matthew and St. John Neumann in east Charlotte, where Hoare also served.
In a 2020 letter to announce Hoare’s removal, Jugis said the priest “had repeatedly been the subject of complaints from the faithful that he failed to live up to contemporary standards of conduct with minors” — complaints that had followed him from parish to parish since Hoare became a priest in 2007, the bishop wrote.
According to Jugis’ most recent statement, Hoare already has lost two overseas appeals — the most recent in November, when the Vatican’s highest court, the Apostolic Signatura, ruled that the priest’s challenge to his suspension was “manifestly lacking in foundation” and “must be dismissed.”
Hoare has since appealed to a larger panel of the Vatican court, which, according to the bishop’s letter, is the former pastor’s last legal move. When the court will next rule is unclear, Jugis wrote.
In July 2021, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Clergy likewise sided with Jugis’s removal of Hoare as pastor, finding that the diocese “sufficiently demonstrated grave and lasting cause” for its decision, according to Jugis’ letter.
Hoare’s status continues to roil St. Matthew. As of Thursday, the longstanding Change.org petition calling for the former pastor’s return had received some 1,730 signatures. It describes Hoare as “our beloved priest, spiritual director, and pastoral shepherd.”
Hoare’s supporters also call the bishop’s statement an “unfair attack” on Hoare’s character that is “contrary to the overwhelmingly positive reputation that he has enjoyed for years among the parishioners of the St. Matthew community and the diocese at large, in particular with the parents and children of young families.”
Hoare officially remains on administrative leave “without an ecclesiastical assignment,” according to Jugis’ weekend letter. The priest continues to anchor a podcast, Daily Reflections, on Catholic teachings.
In his statement, Hoare thanked those “who have provided me with overwhelming support during what has been a most painful process.
“Please continue to pray for me, for all victims of abuse, for all faithful priests, for Bishop Jugis, and for the Diocese of Charlotte.”