2 Priests Step down over Sex Allegations

By William Kleinknecht and David Gibson
The Star-Ledger [Newark, New Jersey]
June 25, 2002

Two Roman Catholic priests have left their posts following allegations that they and a third priest sexually abused a teenage girl they met through a Union County church youth group 20 years ago.

The Rev. Edward Eilert, pastor of St. Philomena's Church in Livingston, and the Rev. Joseph Rice,chaplain at Bergen Regional Health Care Center in Paramus, voluntarily left their positions "in the past few weeks" after they were confronted with the allegations, a church spokesman said yesterday.

The third priest, the Rev. Bruno Ugliano, remains a chaplain at Rider College in Lawrenceville. Ugliano is a former headmaster of Delbarton School in Morristown and is a member of the Benedictine religious order, which has jurisdiction over its own members.

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, James Goodness, said the information on all three was turned over to the Union County Prosecutor's Office, which confirmed that it is investigating the case, along with allegations against at least 10 other priests.

Neither Rice nor Eilert could be reached for comment yesterday. Ugliano referred questions to his attorney, Michael Critchley, who said his client is innocent but is being swept up in a "frenzy" of accusations against priests.

"There is a frenzy that is developing, and it is almost out of control," Critchley said. "We have to be careful that we don't commit an injustice in the search for justice." Critchley said he is representing Ugliano pro bono, since he believes the priest is being wrongly accused.

Goodness said the action to remove Rice and Eilert was taken as soon as the archdiocese received a "credible" charge from the victim, who is now 38. He said the archdiocese alerted Benedictine officials in Morristown about the charges against Ugliano at the same time it notified county authorities.

Union County Prosecutor Thomas Manahan said the archdiocese had referred the three cases to his office but the incidents may be too old to prosecute under the state's statute of limitations. He said his office also will investigate to see if there are any recent allegations.

He said Rice, chaplain at what used to be known as Bergen Pines, a psychiatric hospital, also had been accused of assaulting other children, including a teenage boy. He said there were no other complaints against Ugliano and Eilert.

The alleged victim, who now lives in North Carolina, detailed the incidents Friday in a two-hour meeting in Newark with two attorneys appointed by the archdiocese to serve on an independent review board handling complaints about pedophilia. She was accompanied by Buddy Cotton, New Jersey director of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests.

In an interview with The Star-Ledger after the meeting, the woman, who asked not to be identified, said the incidents began in the early 1980s, when she was 14. She said they occurred at a time when her mother was dying of cancer, and she had gone into a confessional at St. John's Church in Linden to seek solace from Rice.

She said he took advantage of her vulnerability, following her into a ladies' room in the church rectory and coercing her to have sexual intercourse.

"He said he was going to tell me about penance and try to help me be forgiven," said the woman. "That was the only way my mother would get better."

She said she met the other two priests in the course of Catholic Youth Organization business at their parishes and in rural retreats. Eilert was the monsignor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Mountainside and Ugliano was at St. Elizabeth's Church in Linden.

In 1981, she said, she met Ugliano while at an event at St. Elizabeth's, and he also had intercourse with her. She said she believed that he had been in touch with Rice because he used the exact same language to lure her into sex.

"He knew the line," she said. "If I would just be good, all these things would happen in my life and my mother would get better. I said, 'I don't know how to be better for Father Joe and I don't know how to be better for you.' He said, 'It takes practice.'"

She said Eilert, who had participated in retreats with the other two priests, approached her at his parish sometime in 1981 and forced her to engage in oral sex.

The woman said Sister Thomas Mary Salerno, the archdiocese's chancellor, had tried to dissuade her from pursuing the complaints when she first called the archdiocese in October.

Goodness said no action was taken until this spring because the victim initially would not provide concrete details on the allegations.

The woman said that at her meeting Friday, Sister Patricia Codey, the review board attorney who conducted the meeting, was extremely gracious and started the session by handing her a check to cover her travel expenses.

Codey would not comment about the meeting, and Salerno was en route to the Vatican yesterday and could not be reached.

The woman said she went to Gettysburg College in 1982 and remained active in the church, but gradually gave up what had been the center of her life. She was haunted by the priests' statements that she was not "good enough."

"I can't tell you up until the year 2000 how many suicide attempts I have had," she said. "I have had chronic depression. I can't trust anybody. I never trusted any males because I thought they were going to want something, want me to help them with their aches."

She said she never married or had children and is on medical disability from her job with an airline. She said she decided to come forward to the archdiocese and authorities after a good friend who had been assaulted by a priest as a child in New York state killed himself in August.

Under the terms of their suspensions, Eilert and Rice are not allowed to say Mass publicly or to function in any ministry.

If the allegations against the two are found to be true, both men would be permanently barred from ministry - meaning they could not function as a priest, wear a collar or be addressed as "Father" - under the terms of a strict new "zero tolerance" policy that the U.S. bishops adopted at their meeting in Dallas this month.

Ugliano's case, however, underscores a potential loophole in the bishops' new policy, because it is unclear whether priests who are members of autonomous orders - like the Benedictines or Jesuits or Dominicans - will be subject to the same strict conditions.

Leaders of the bishops conference say they will, and most religious orders have said they will comply with the Dallas policy if they have not already. Some 15,200 of the nation's 47,000 Catholic priests belong to men's orders, along with some 5,500 brothers. Bishops and the "superiors" or "provincials" who govern religious orders share supervision of those clergy with diocesan bishops.


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