The Catholic Diocese of Charleston faces new allegations of sexual abuse from two people who said their repressed memories of incidents from the 1950s and 1960s surfaced recently due to news reports and other litigation.
In separate lawsuits filed this month in Charleston County, two men said they were sexually abused when they were students and altar boys. They alleged that the diocese knew or should have known of the molestation, failed to protect them and concealed their abusers' predatory behavior toward children.
In a statement, the diocese said officials have reached out to the men and offered them professional counseling. Attorneys are working on responses to both lawsuits.
The legal action comes at a time when the Catholic Church is grappling with widespread accusations of sexual misconduct following an expansive report from a grand jury in Pennsylvania.
The investigation released earlier this month found that more than 300 priests sexually abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s. One of the priests led a church in Charleston for several years in the early 1990s after a victim came forward in Pennsylvania in the 1980s, according to the report.
A lawsuit filed Friday by attorney Lawrence Richter of Mount Pleasant stated that a victim was around the ages of 10 or 12 in the mid-1950s when he was sexually abused by Frederick Hopwood, a Charleston priest known for sex crimes who died in April 2017.
In 1994, Hopwood admitted to repeatedly molesting an altar boy in the early 1970s. He pleaded guilty to one count of a lewd act upon a minor after at least 10 men came forward with stories of abuse. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, he received statewide immunity from further prosecution.
The victim in the latest lawsuit said he remembered Hopwood saying that if he told anyone about the misconduct, he and his family "would be excommunicated and they would all go to hell," according to the suit.
Another victim represented by Richter, who filed a separate lawsuit against the diocese on Aug. 8, said his abusers also threatened him with recrimination. The suit alleged that two male teachers and youth leaders at the former Sacred Heart Catholic School, now known as Charleston Catholic School, sexually assaulted him in the late-1960s when he was around the ages of 12 to 14.
The teachers "preyed on" young boys at church properties and other locations such as beaches, according to the suit.
Memories of the abuse came back to the victim within the past two years.
The other victim who said he was molested by Hopwood said he began to recall the incidents over the past few months.
"His memories were repressed; he disassociated," the lawsuit said.
Richter could not be reached for comment.
Gregg Meyers, a Charleston-based attorney who has represented sexual abuse victims in other lawsuits against the diocese, said cases involving repressed memories are rare but recognized by South Carolina courts. He said such claims must meet specific criteria and be corroborated by a mental health professional.