Catholic Center (copy)

Diocese of Charleston Bishop Robert Guglielmone gives a homily at the dedication of the Chapel of the Holy Family in West Ashley in 2015. File/Staff.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information received from Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York and Diocese of Charleston. 

Attorneys for South Carolina's highest-ranking Catholic continued to push back Thursday against allegations that Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone sexually abused a young parishioner in New York in the 1970s, saying the accusations were fabricated in an attempt to squeeze money from the church. 

But questions remained as to when the allegations contained in a lawsuit against Guglielmone first surfaced and how they were handled at that time. Also unclear is the scope of an ongoing investigation requested by the Vatican. Church officials in New York declined to answer those and other questions when contacted by The Post and Courier.

The New York lawsuit was filed Wednesday, the same day another suit against Guglielmone was dismissed in federal court in Charleston. That action concerned allegations that Guglielmone improperly retaliated against a priest for reporting sexual abuse the priest had suffered at the hands of clergy in Greenville as a boy. Guglielmone has denied the allegations leveled against him in both suits.

The New York case accuses Guglielmone of molesting and performing sex acts on a young boy while serving as a priest at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Amityville, N.Y. The suit alleges the abuse began in 1978, when the child was 8 years old, and that Guglielmone told the boy that it was “God’s will." 

"The allegations are false," the bishop countered in a written statement. "I engaged in no wrongdoing."

Bruce Barket, an attorney representing Guglielmone, doubled down Thursday on his stance that the allegations are a “fabrication.”

He said that the bishop’s legal team has a sworn statement from a family member of the accuser. The accuser allegedly told this relative, years ago, that he made up the allegations against Guglielmone in order get money from the church, Barket said.

“He’s taking his shot, but he’s not going to get any money,” Barket said. “He’d be lucky if he doesn’t get indicted for perjury.”

The bishop took a lie detector test earlier this year, Barket said, and passed. “I just hope it doesn’t hurt the bishop’s reputation too much before it’s put to rest,” he said.

Jordan Merson, attorney for the accuser, did not respond Thursday to a text message seeking comment and a message left with his office.

Lingering questions

According to the Diocese of Charleston, 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. Bishop Guglielmone has been cooperating fully with the Vatican-requested investigation, the Diocese said. 

The Charleston Diocese referred further questions on the matter to the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York, which is handling the latest investigation. St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church is part of the Rockville Centre Diocese. 

In a written statement, that diocese said it first reported the allegations to law enforcement authorities in 2006. But it's unclear from the statement if that is when the diocese first learned of the matter. The statement also doesn't detail who investigated the allegations at that time or who deemed them to be not credible. 

The Diocese of Rockville Centre said the allegations resurfaced in June of 2018. Again, law enforcement was notified. Bishop John Oliver Barres, who oversees that diocese, also alerted the Vatican to the situation, and he was instructed to investigate the matter, the diocese stated.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the New York diocese, declined to elaborate on the matter or answer questions about the scope of the latest investigation. It is unclear whether law enforcement is still involved in the probe. 

The Vatican Press Office and the Amityville Police Department did not return messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Department said the agency would not discuss ongoing investigations or allegations absent an arrest.

Barket, the bishop's lawyer, is a former New York prosecutor who attended seminary before returning to legal practice as a defense attorney. He said the allegations against Guglielmone were first reported to a law enforcement agency in New York years ago, but he wasn’t sure which one and when.

It did not result in prosecution, Barket said.

Barket declined to discuss how the matter resurfaced. He said he had been hired to represent Guglielmone prior to the lawsuit's filing in New York, amid a flurry of legal action after the state extended its statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases.

Guglielmone, 73, has served as bishop of the Diocese of Charleston since March 2009. The diocese covers the entire state, making the bishop the top Catholic in South Carolina. 

Retaliatory action?

The same day the New York suit was filed, U.S. District Judge David Norton in Charleston dismissed another suit accusing Guglielmone of moving to defrock a priest in retaliation for the priest trying to bring his own sexual abuse claims to light. 

Gregg Meyers, attorney for the priest, Michael Cassabon, said the case was dismissed due to jurisdictional issues and he plans to refile the lawsuit in South Carolina state court. 

Richard Dukes, a Charleston attorney representing Guglielmone and the diocese in the case, could not immediately be reached for comment. The bishop's legal team has argued that the courts have no business interfering in an internal religious proceeding between a priest and his bishop.

Cassabon, a priest ordained in the Diocese of Charleston who is currently on leave from the church, has alleged that he was sexually abused several times in 1997 and 1998 while a student at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville. He identified his abuser as Hayden Vaverek, a now-former priest who left the ministry following complaints in the 1990s. He was later reinstated by then-Bishop of Charleston Robert Baker without a serious investigation, the suit alleged.

Cassabon first reported Vaverek’s abuse to diocese officials in 2013, alleging the abuse left him with lasting wounds and nearly drove him to suicide, the suit stated. Cassabon submitted further reports regarding his abuse in 2017, to Guglielmone in 2018, and on Jan. 14 this year to the Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C., the Vatican’s diplomatic mission to the U.S.

Maria Aselage, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Charleston, said Vaverek was immediately put on administrative leave without the ability to function as a priest when the allegations were first reported to the diocese. A review found the allegations credible, Guglielmone accepted that recommendation and the case was sent to the Vatican. Vaverek was defrocked in May 2016, she said. 

On Feb. 15 of this year, Guglielmone responded to Cassabon with a letter offering “pastoral care” but stating that it would be “difficult if not impossible” to discuss the priest's request for additional help and compensation. The bishop also issued a canonical warning, which starts a process that could revoke Cassabon’s priesthood. He accused Cassabon of "scandalous behavior" for failing to remain celibate while on leave from the church.

The bishop and Cassabon exchanged emails in which Cassabon stated he felt that Guglielmone’s response was retaliatory for filing a report with the Papal Nuncio. The bishop replied that the action wasn’t personal and that he was forced to take it because of a communication from the Papal Nuncio.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Get the best of The Post and Courier, handpicked and delivered to your inbox every morning.


Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556. Follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.

Watchdog/Public Service Editor

Glenn Smith is editor of the Watchdog and Public Service team and helped write the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, “Till Death Do Us Part.” He is a Connecticut native and a longtime crime reporter.