Church law loophole allowed a paedophile to keep his job
Paedophile Catholic priest Fr Kevin Gugliotta, 54, above, is currently languishing in jail, awaiting trial on charges of downloading and sharing images and videos of children involved in sex acts.
Now here’s a thing: according to this report, the Vatican was informed around 13 years ago that Gugliotta was alleged to have molested a 16-year-old boy.
But the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by soon-to-be-Pope Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, decided that he could continue working because the assault took place before he was ordained as a priest.
Prior to his ordination he was a private-sector engineer and Boy Scout leader.
When he became a priest he served for years in various parishes, including a long stint as chaplain to a youth group.
When the allegation first surfaced, Gugliotta was suspended from his ministry in New Jersey and his case was referred to the Vatican for guidance, but he was then brought back into service.
A spokesman for the Newark archdiocese said the Vatican had ruled that Church law, known as canon law, prevented Gugliotta from being punished for something he might have done as a layman. In 2004, he was quietly reinstated.
That decision, which was not widely disclosed, is now being questioned by his accuser and others in the wake of Gugliotta’s arrest in October on 40 counts of possessing and disseminating child pornography.
Gugliotta remains jailed in Pennsylvania in lieu of $1 million bail, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office said.
The man who accused him of sexual abuse in 2003 said he was unaware of the Vatican’s ruling on Gugliotta, calling it “mind-blowing” that the decision appeared to be based on a technicality.
The accuser, who did not file a lawsuit or seek money from the archdiocese, questioned how the Church could allow a potential threat into its parishes, particularly so soon after the clergy sexual abuse crisis exploded into national view two years earlier, in 2002.
Greg Gianforcaro, a lawyer who facilitated the accuser’s testimony before a board of Church investigators in 2003, put the onus on the archdiocese. Even if Archbishop John J Myers, above, could not bar Gugliotta from serving as a priest under canon law, Gianforcaro argued, Myers could have at least placed him in a position away from children. He said:
When does common sense take over, and what about the concern for children? That’s crazy.
Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, said the archdiocese forwarded the case to Rome after it had:
Looked into the matter seriously. Since the allegations dealt with a time frame before he was a priest, there was nothing canonically the Church could do. All I can say is the direction that was given to us by Rome is that no penal action could be taken.
The Rev James Connell, a canon lawyer in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a prominent advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse, said the Vatican appeared to act appropriately under canon law in determining Gugliotta could not be punished for alleged wrongdoing that occurred before he was an ordained priest.
At the same time, Connell said, Vatican officials should consider amending church laws to eliminate what he characterised as a loophole that could allow potential abusers to remain in the priesthood.
Connell was more forceful in suggesting Myers could have taken action to restrict Gugliotta’s ministry. Under canon law, he said, bishops have a free hand to assign priests where they see fit.
The bishop of the diocese has a responsibility to be watching out for the care of all the people. If he knows technically nothing can be done, morally something should be done, so he is not in a spot where someone could be hurt.
Critics of the archbishop say his handling of Gugliotta represents another misstep for Myers, who has previously been criticised for the manner in which he has managed priests accused of sexual abuse. Myers, whose retirement has been accepted by Pope Francis, is due to be replaced by Cardinal Joseph W Tobin of Indianapolis in January.
Said Mark Crawford, the New Jersey Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an advocacy and support group:
To me, it’s unconscionable that they allowed him to remain a priest without restrictions. And then to allow him to be a youth minister? How reckless was that?
Gugliotta, a nationally ranked poker player who has regularly competed in tournaments around the country, was arrested on October 21. He was extradited to Pennsylvania last month.
The priest had been at his latest assignment, Holy Spirit Church in Union Township, for about a week when he was charged in the child pornography case.
Gugliotta was never charged in connection with the abuse allegations that date to the mid-1980s.
His accuser, whose name is being withheld because he is an alleged victim of sexual assault, said he reported it to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in 2003, the same month he first reached out to the archdiocese.
The man, now a 46-year-old married father of two in Union County, said he was told the case could not be prosecuted because it was beyond the statute of limitations.
In a detailed letter given to the Archdiocesan Review Board – a panel that investigates sex abuse claims – and in testimony before the board in 2003, the man said Gugliotta was a close family friend who lived near him in Newark and who served as his troop leader in the Boy Scouts.
Beginning in 1986, he said, Gugliotta repeatedly fondled him against his will at Scout events, at his home and on family vacations. He said Gugliotta also once spied on him through his bedroom window as he masturbated.
On another occasion, the man said, Gugliotta hid in his room quietly, apparently hoping to catch him masturbating.
The accuser said Gugliotta eventually confessed to him that he was gay and that he loved him. When the man tried to avoid contact, Gugliotta continued to stalk him into his late teens, he said, at one point showing up unannounced at his college in Pennsylvania.
The man said he felt compelled to come forward in 2003 because he realised he was keeping a secret for the wrong reason and because he wanted to protect others.
I was not asking for or looking for any reward from the archdiocese. I just wanted solely to keep him out of a position of power where he could abuse others.
He said he was speaking up again now because the archdiocese, despite the child pornography charges, had remained silent about the previous abuse claims.
Crawford, of SNAP, echoed that criticism.
They have said, in their words, they have a responsibility to be open and honest and transparent with the faithful and to put kids before the institution. Clearly they failed at all levels here.