A lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses Charleston Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of repeatedly sexually abusing a young boy more than 40 years ago while serving as a pastor in New York.
The bishop, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in South Carolina, denies the allegation, which was part of a flurry of lawsuits filed in New York after the state extended its statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases.
At the time, Guglielmone was serving as a priest at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Amityville, N.Y., in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston stated.
The lawsuit states Guglielmone was known in the community and among children at the church as a sexual predator. The suit alleges Guglielmone molested and performed sex acts on the boy beginning in 1978, when the child was 8 years old.
Guglielmone allegedly told the boy it was "God's will" and "God will reward his children if they did what was asked of them."
The boy's abuse allegation was not determined to be credible when it was made, and information regarding the accusation was provided to law enforcement, according to the Diocese of Charleston. The Vatican has been informed of the allegation, and Bishop Guglielmone has been cooperating fully with an ongoing investigation initiated at the request of the Vatican, the Diocese said. The Diocese did not say when the allegations were first made or who is conducting the investigation.
In written statements, Guglielmone said the allegations are false, he committed no wrongdoing and he looks forward to proving his innocence.
"I offer my prayers daily for those whose lives have been hurt or devastated by the actions of a member of the clergy or by any other persons, especially all abused children and other vulnerable persons," he said. "It is particularly tragic when the abuse is at the hands of a priest in whom their spiritual care and well-being has been entrusted."
Bruce Barket and Aida Leisenring, attorneys for Guglielmone, issued a statement as well in which they described the allegations as "provably false." They also alleged that the bishop's accuser "made this up in order to get money from the Church."
"Bishop Guglielmone is a good man who has devoted his entire career to the church, education, and community service. Although he was under no obligation to do so, he submitted himself to a polygraph examination, which he passed," they stated. "We will not allow these false allegations to tarnish the outstanding and selfless work he has done throughout his life. We will see the plaintiff in Court and the Bishop will be cleared.”
Jordan Merson, attorney for the accuser, did not respond Wednesday to a text message seeking comment. The lawsuit, alleging negligence on the part the New York diocese and the church in which Guglielmone served, seeks unspecified damages for "catastrophic and lifelong injuries" resulting from the alleged abuse.
Monsignors Richard D. Harris and D. Anthony Droze, vicars general of the Diocese of Charleston, stood by the bishop.
"Bishop Guglielmone has been a trusted leader of our diocese for more than 10 years. We have the utmost faith in his truthfulness and in his innocence," the pair said in a statement.
Addressing SC abuse
"Guglielmone" (pronounced goo-yell-MO-nay) was installed in March 2009 as the 13th Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, which covers all of the South Carolina. He was previously a rector of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, N.Y., and succeeded the Rev. Robert J. Baker.
He was among local church leaders who took steps earlier this year to help victims heal after sexual abuse at the hands of priests in South Carolina, the Diocese has said. He has held at least seven town hall meetings with parishioners across the state since November.
In March, Guglielmone released four lists with the names of 42 priests a South Carolina church panel decided had credible accusations of child sexual misconduct made against them. At the time, Guglielmone said he hoped the move would help bring healing to the victims and their families who have been “grievously harmed by the betrayal of priests and church leadership.”
“We also need to honor the courage of those who have come forward to share the most intimate and painful experiences of their entire lives,” he stated. “My heart hurts for the victims and the damage this has caused to them and to their families.”
Many heralded the move as a long-overdue step in the healing process, a public acknowledgement by diocesan leadership of years of pain and betrayal felt by victims, and a chance for the church and its flock to begin moving forward. In the weeks after, however, attorneys, victims’ advocates and others questioned whether church leaders had done enough and what should come next.
The Roman Catholic Church today released its list of 42 South Carolina priests who have a credible allegation of child sexual misconduct.
The case in which Guglielmone is now named is among a flurry of lawsuits filed in New York as the state moves to allow molestation lawsuits that had been blocked by the statute of limitations.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were expected to sue Wednesday, the first day of the one-year window for older molestation cases. The new challenges also include a lawsuit from a woman who says she was raped by deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein as a teenager in 2002. She is suing his estate and three of his associates.
New York state lawmakers extended the statute of limitations this year for new victims and gave those with older abuse claims one year to sue their abusers or institutions or businesses employed them.
New York's old statute of limitations was among America's most restrictive.
David G. Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told The Post and Courier he was not surprised by the volume of lawsuits filed Wednesday or the fact the accuser has chosen to go after Guglielmone so many years later. Law enforcement and the church long turned a blind eye to allegations of this nature against priests, leaving the civil courts as the only path to seek justice, he said.
"I think it suggests, in New York and virtually any state in the union, if victims are given an opportunity to expose predators in court, people will be shocked at how widespread clerical abuse is," he said.
The diocese where Guglielmone worked in New York was among the first to be exposed for child sexual abuse when a grand jury on Long Island investigated it in 2002. The grand jury reviewed dozens of priests’ personnel files and found a system that “left thousands of children ... exposed to predatory, serial, child molesters working as priests.”
The grand jury wrote a scathing indictment of the diocese, saying its leaders used “deception and intimidation” to silence accusers and insisted on confidentiality before compensating them. Not a single priest who knew about abuse reported it to law enforcement, the grand jury wrote.
Instead, it wrote, abusive priests were transferred between parishes and dioceses, “protected under the guise of confidentiality; their histories mired in secrecy.”
The grand jury didn't name the priests it investigated.
Guglielmone's parents were both born in Italy — his father in the province of La Spezia near Genoa, his mother in Sorrento near Naples — and immigrated to New York City. Robert Eric Guglielmone was born Dec. 30, 1945, in Manhattan. He followed two brothers, Nicholas and Tito, 16 and 10 years older.
He grew up on Long Island, attended Catholic schools, served as an altar boy at St. Jude Catholic Church and eventually studied history and business at St. John's University.
Guglielmone went to Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y., and was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre on April 8, 1978. He was 32.
He served as pastor at St. Martin of Tours in Amityville and at St. Frances de Chantal in Wantagh. He was director of pastoral formation at Immaculate Conception Seminary from 1986-93. He was named an honorary prelate — "monsignor" — in 1996, and from 2004-07 served the Diocese of Rockville Centre as its director of clergy personnel. In 2007, he became rector of St. Agnes Cathedral.
Since his seminary days, Guglielmone has been active in Catholic Boy Scouting. He served as chaplain for the International Catholic Conference of Scouting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.