Crime & Courts

Lawsuit claims head of SC Catholic church sexually abused a minor

A lawsuit accuses the leader of the South Carolina Catholic church of sexually abusing a minor 40 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed in New York, claims that Bishop Robert Guglielmone, head of the Diocese of Charleston, sexually abused a child beginning in 1978 when the boy was 8. The diocese, which oversees all Catholic churches and entities in South Carolina, announced that the lawsuit was filed Wednesday.

In the late 1970s, Guglielmone served as a priest at St. Martin of Tours church in Amityville, New York, according to the statement from a diocese official.

The suit claims that Guglielmone molested the child between 20 and 30 times from 1978 to 1979. The reported abuse happened inside the church at times, the suit alleges, adding that Guglielmone “was known among the community and the children at the church as a sexual predator.”

Guglielmone told the victim it was “God’s Will” and that “God will reward his children if they do what is asked of them,” according to the lawsuit.

The statement from the Charleston diocese said the allegations are untrue.

“The plaintiff’s abuse allegation was not determined to be credible when it was made and information regarding the accusation was provided to law enforcement,” spokesperson Maria Aselage wrote in the statement. “The Vatican has been informed of the allegation and Bishop Guglielmone has been cooperating fully with a thorough ongoing investigation initiated at the request of the Vatican.”

The Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York is currently investigating the accusations at the behest of the Vatican, Aselage said.

“The allegations are false,” Guglielmone said in the statement. “I engaged in no wrongdoing. I look forward to being vindicated in Court.”

Guglielmone’s lawyers, Bruce Barket and Aida Leisenring, reinforced the bishop’s statement.

“Bishop Guglielmone is a good man who has devoted his entire career to the church, education, and community service,” they said in a statement. “Although he was under no obligation to do so, he submitted himself to a polygraph examination, which he passed. 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.”

In their statement, Gulielmone’s attorneys claim that the man made up the allegations to get money from the church and admitted to family members that he made up the claim. The attorneys claim that the plaintiff said “it’s worth a try.”

Guglielmone “looks forward to proving his innocence of this baseless accusation,” the lawyers said.

“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,” Guglielmone 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.”

South Carolina Catholic leaders Richard D. Harris and D. Anthony Droze said in a statement that “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 lawsuit said the victim suffered emotional and mental damage that caused him to turn to drugs. The plaintiff is seeking punitive damages against Guglielmone to be determined by a jury.

Gulielmone became the leader of the South Carolina Catholic church in 2009. In 2011 he formalized a policy concerning allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of minors for his diocese.

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