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Charleston bishop cleared by Vatican over abuse claim

BishopRobertEGuglielmone   Miscellany   by Doug Deas 1 Bishop Robert Guglielmone. / Doug Deas/The Catholic Miscellany.

The Bishop of Charleston, SC, has been cleared of accusations of sexual abuse by the Vatican, the diocese announced Sunday.

In a release from the Diocese of Charleston Monday, Bishop Robert Guglielmone said that a Vatican investigation had dismissed an allegation made against him dating back to the 1970s.

“As we approach the end of what has been an extremely challenging year, I am very pleased to be able to share some good news. I recently received a letter from the Papal Nuncio stating that the Vatican has determined that the sexual abuse allegation against me has no semblance of truth and is thus unfounded,” Guglielmone said in a letter dated Dec. 6.

“While not surprising to me,” the bishop said, “it is very welcomed news as it confirms what I have adamantly stated. I am innocent of the accusation that was made against me.”

Bishop Guglielmone has led the Diocese of Charleston since 2009. Prior to that, he served as a priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York. In August 2019, Guglielmone was accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit filed in the state of New York.

The suit was filed on Aug. 14, the first day of a one-year period where abuse survivors could file claims against their abusers or the institutions which shielded their abusers, regardless of the statute of limitations. The one-year period was created by the passage of the Child Victims Act, which changed New York’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. 

The suit alleges that Guglielmone sexually abused a young man over a period of years while he was serving as pastor of St. Martin of Tours parish in Amityville, starting in 1978. Guglielmone has repeatedly insisted that the accusations against him are completely baseless. On Aug. 16 last year, he announced he would reduce his public appearances while the case was resolved.

While insisting that the accusation had “no merit whatsoever” the bishop said last year that he did not want “to distract the focus from the important ministries of the Church in South Carolina–including creating safe environments for our children.”

Lacking a “semblance of truth” is a legal standard in canon law for treating allegations. When an accusation of sexual abuse is made, the preliminary investigation is held under the provisions of canon 1717 of the Code of Canon Law and Article 16 of the substantive norms of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on graviora delicta (major crimes).

In order for a canonical process to he continue, the investigation must find “at least the semblance of truth” to the accusation; canonically, this means that the accusation cannot be manifestly false or frivolous.

The lawsuit is still pending in civil court.

The news of the Vatican decision was circulated to the priests of the diocese on Friday, and made public on Sunday.

In a statement to local media on Monday, a diocesan spokesman said that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has exclusive legal competence in the Church regarding cases of sexual abuse of minors, had exonerated the bishop.

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“The Diocese of Rockville Centre commissioned a comprehensive external investigation of the allegations of misconduct against Bishop Guglielmone by a law firm that is experienced in such matters and had no connection to any of the involved parties,” Michael Acquilano, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston told the Charleston Post and Courier, and confirmed that the results had been sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In his statement Sunday, Guglielmone thanked the priests and faithful of the diocese for their “encouragement and prayers during this difficult time.”

“Your support helped me tremendously as I waited for the allegation to go through the thorough review process,” said the bishop.

“I find it appropriate that I am able to announce the conclusion of this canonical matter during the holy season of Advent during which the hope of all God’s children came to be realized by His chosen people in the birth of the Savior.”

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“As we prepare for the celebration of that wonderful event let us rejoice in Emmanuel, God with us.”

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