Catholic leaders knew N.J. priest was accused of abuse. He became a ‘youth minister’ anyway, lawsuit says.

Posted Mar 9, 2019

Catholic Church officials learned in 2003 one of their priests had been accused of sexually abusing a boy years earlier while he was a Boy Scout leader before he joined the clergy, according to a new lawsuit.

But Archdiocese of Newark leaders still assigned the priest to a Union County parish, where he became “head of youth ministry” and began abusing another young boy a year later, according to a civil lawsuit filed this week by the alleged victim.

The Rev. Kevin Gugliotta, a nationally-ranked poker player, pleaded guilty in 2017 to disseminating child pornography in Pennsylvania. He was sentenced to up to 23 1/2 months in jail and has been permanently removed from ministry.

In the new lawsuit, one of his alleged victims, identified by the pseudonym Richard Roe, says the Archdiocese of Newark, then-Archbishop John H. Myers and St. Bartholomew of the Apostle Parish in Scotch Plains should be held responsible for the priest’s alleged abuse at the Union County parish.

In 2003, church officials briefly removed Gugliotta from ministry and sent his case to the Vatican for review. But church leaders later said they could not remove Gugliotta from ministry because the alleged sexual abuse took place in the 1980s when he was a Boy Scout leader -- years before he became a priest, the lawsuit said.

The case was reported to police, but never prosecuted.

“It’s just shocking to me that anyone associated with the Archdiocese of Newark . . . would even think of allowing this man to remain a priest, much less allow him to become head of youth ministry,” said Greg Gianforcaro, the alleged victim’s attorney.

The alleged victim is suing the archdiocese, Myers and the Scotch Plains parish for an unspecified amount, citing fraud and negligence in the hiring and supervision of Gugliotta. Though he is named in the lawsuit, the priest is not being sued.

The lawsuit comes a month after the Archdiocese of Newark and the state’s four other dioceses released a list of 188 priests, including Gugliotta, who were “credibly accused” of child sexual abuse. The state’s attorney general’s office is also in the midst of a statewide investigation of how the Catholic Church handled abuse allegations.

Gugliotta was removed from ministry in 2016 and steps to defrock him, or strip him of standing as a priest, have been taken, the Archdiocese of Newark said in a statement Friday in response to the lawsuit.

“We will carefully review the details of this allegation and work diligently in collaboration with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Task Force to ensure justice is served. Most importantly, we wish to express our sincere regret to all victims betrayed by a member of our church and continue to offer our prayers and support as they continue on their healing journey,” the Archdiocese of Newark statement said.

Under New Jersey’s current statute of limitations law, the new lawsuit will likely be thrown out of court because it is filed more than two years after the alleged abuse. However, the attorney for the alleged victim said they are hoping a proposed new law extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims, currently under debate in Trenton, will pass quickly and be signed into law so the case can continue.

In a 2016 Star-Ledger story about the allegations against Gugliotta, the pastor of St. Bartholomew of the Apostle Parish said he had no idea of the past allegations against the priest when he was assigned to his parish and worked with the church youth group for eight years.

“To me, it’s unconscionable that they allowed him to remain a priest without restrictions,” Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy and support group, told The Star-Ledger in 2016. “And then to allow him to be a youth minister? How reckless was that?”

Gugliotta was never charged in the alleged abuse case from the 1980s, though his alleged victim wrote an anonymous column detailing his allegations in The Star-Ledger in 2017.

Gugliotta played poker on his personal time and regularly competed in tournaments around the country. When he pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in 2017, court records showed he told probation officers he blamed God when he lost poker tournaments. He also said he collected porn as “revenge” against God.

In addition to serving in Scotch Plains, Gugliotta previously served as a priest in numerous New Jersey parishes, including Holy Spirit in Union, Immaculate Conception in Mahwah, St. Joseph in West Orange, St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff, St. Rose of Lima in Short Hills and at Ramapo College in Mahwah.

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