Saturday, July 24, 2010

Suit filed against former minister alleges sexual abuse

Suit filed against former minister alleges sexual abuse
Mark Barrett • July 23, 2010 Citizen-Times

ASHEVILLE — Church officials knew about a pattern of “improper sexual activity” by the now-former music minister of St. Eugene Catholic Church before the minister came to Asheville, according to a lawsuit filed against the minister.

Former minister Paul Berrell pleaded guilty in March to a federal charge of production of child pornography.

A minor girl and her parents recently sued Berrell, St. Eugene’s former pastor, John Schneider, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. Berrell sexually abused the girl, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says that Berrell had engaged “improper sexual activity” at previous church jobs in the Atlanta, Boston and Memphis, Tenn., areas and that church officials there had known about the sexual misconduct.

The conduct included “sexual activity with and abuse of minor children and/or young people,” the lawsuit says. The suit was filed in Buncombe County Superior Court July 16.

It also says Schneider left a board meeting for Asheville Catholic School, where Berrell taught a class, after receiving a call from Berrell at the Asheville Police Department in which Berrell asked him to remove child pornography from Berrell’s home computer.

Berrell made the call from the Asheville Police Department the day he was arrested on state sex charges, the suit says.

Schneider went to Berrell’s home and attempted to remove images from the computer and then returned to the board meeting, the suit says. Schneider was arrested on a criminal charge of obstruction of justice.

Berrell pleaded guilty in March in U.S. District Court in Asheville to one count of production of child pornography. He was also charged with several sex offenses under state law. At least some of the conduct allegedly occurred in April 2009.

District Attorney Ron Moore said his office will look to proceed with state charges against Berrell after Berrell is sentenced in federal court, expected in September. Prosecutors will handle the charge against Schneider after dealing with Berrell, he said.

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