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The Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone plans to stay on as South Carolina's top Catholic leader but will temporarily reduce his public presence in the wake of sex abuse allegations contained in a lawsuit filed in New York last week. 

That's the message Guglielmone delivered in a letter read at Catholic Masses throughout the state over the weekend, according to the Diocese of Charleston.

In the brief missive, Guglielmone strongly denied the allegations against him, saying "this false accusation against me has no merit whatsoever. I have vigorously defended myself and will continue to do so."

Guglielmone stated he will remain bishop as the case moves forward but will reduce his public visibility so as not to "distract the focus from the important ministries of the Church in South Carolina — including creating safe environments for our children."

"I understand that these are challenging times for you, the faithful, and the coming days may be even more so," he wrote. "Please know that I am grateful for your prayers."

The letter did not detail what specific steps the bishop plans to take to curtail his public presence, and the diocese did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Post and Courier. 

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 Diocese of Rockville Centre said it first reported the boy's allegation to law enforcement authorities in 2006. Church officials have said the allegation was not determined to be credible at that time. It remains unclear who made that determination. 

The New York diocese said it alerted law enforcement and the Vatican after the allegation resurfaced in 2018. Bishop John Oliver Barres, who oversees that diocese, was instructed to investigate the matter, and Guglielmone has been cooperating with that review, church officials have said.

Parishioners have left dozens of messages on the Diocese of Charleston's Facebook page signalling their continued support for Guglielmone and offering prayers on his behalf. 

"Across the country Bishop has been one of the leaders in solving this issue," one woman wrote. "I support him 100% and don't believe a word of it."

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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.