North Plainfield Priest Removed Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations

By Brent Johnson
The Star-Ledger
October 12, 2010

St. Luke Roman Catholic Church in North Plainfield

NORTH PLAINFIELD The Diocese of Metuchen has removed a North Plainfield priest after allegations recently surfaced that the he sexually abused a minor 30 years ago in Pennsylvania.

The Rev. Gregory Uhrig, 63, pastor of St. Luke Roman Catholic Parish in the Somerset County borough, was placed on leave last week, church officials said.

Uhrig could not be reached for comment today. But according to a letter from the Metuchen diocese, Uhrig denies the allegations.

Church officials said it's unlikely Uhrig will face criminal charges because the case is too old to prosecute.

"This action was taken inasmuch as Church law requires that a priest be removed from ministry as a precautionary measure when an allegation of sexual abuse has been deemed to have a semblance of truth," Metuchen Bishop Paul Bootkoski wrote to St. Luke's parishioners last week.

The allegations against Uhrig came to light only a few months ago, when someone alerted the Diocese of Allentown of the charges.

Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said he did not know which church Uhrig was at when the offense allegedly occurred.

Kerr said church officials reported the case to Pennsylvania authorities, but the statute of limitations had expired.

"We then gave it to Metuchen, and they acted on it," Kerr said.

Officials from the Diocese of Metuchen said a retired investigator from the Sex Crimes Unit of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office examined the case and the local Diocese Review Board interviewed Uhrig and his accuser. Bootkoski said both the investigator and review board ruled that the allegations "were not frivolous."

Bootkoski said he is forwarding the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, and Uhrig will likely face a canonical trial overseen by the Roman Catholic Church.

"In the meantime, Father Uhrig is considered innocent until proven guilty and will receive financial support from the Diocese," Bootkoski wrote.

This is the second time in three years that a priest has left the North Plainfield parish under similar circumstances.

In 2007, Uhrig replaced the Rev. John Giordano, who retired amid sexual misconduct allegations against a minor nearly 30 years ago. Giordano denied the charges.

Two years before that, the Diocese removed the Rev. John "Jack" Casey from North Plainfield's other Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph's, also amid sexual misconduct allegations.

A woman who answered the phone yesterday at St. Luke declined comment.

"The whole town is talking about it," said one woman walking near the 40-year-old,

400-family church, who would not give her name. "It's so sad."

This isn't the first time Uhrig has courted controversy in his 37-year career. In 1993, he was transferred from St. John the Baptist in Whitehall, Pa., a suburb of Allentown, to New Jersey after many congregants complained Uhrig made changes to the church's teachings.

Then in 1998, Uhrig resigned from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Readington Township in Hunterdon County. He drew fire for supporting the reforms set forth by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Supporters said he sparked a renewed interest in the church, and alleged that then-Metuchen Bishop Vincent Breen forced him out. Breen denied the charge.

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