The dark legacy of Archbishop John Myers | Moran

By Tom Moran
January 8, 2017

My mother would have cried in joy to see Cardinal Joseph Tobin take over the Newark archdiocese on Friday, and for good reason.

Think of Tobin as our own Pope Francis. At the Vatican, he was the guy who defended spunky American nuns when conservatives wanted to discipline them for questioning church orthodoxies. And in Indiana, he was vigorous in his early and public embrace of Syrian refugees, as Jesus surely would have been.

"What I find is really important in positions like mine is being able to listen," Tobin said.

Wow. That's not the kind of Catholic leader I grew up with, to put it mildly. So to the 1.2 million Catholics in the archdiocese, a hearty congratulations and fervent best wishes that Tobin is as good as he seems.

Tobin's elevation, of course, is only half the reason that Catholics are celebrating this week. The other is that Archbishop John Myers, a classic pedophile protector, is leaving.

Myers, who likes to be called "Your Grace," will retire to an opulent estate in Hunterdon County that he has used church funds to gear up just right. It has five bedrooms, a three-car garage, two elevators, a swimming pool, an indoor hot tub, three fireplaces, and a gallery so large it takes up the entire third floor. All this for a bachelor.

The money spent on this home would have gone a long way to help poor families in the archdiocese. But Myers has his priorities. Sorry, your grace, but it has to be said.

Still, it was not the greed and materialism among church leaders like Myers that broke my mother's heart: It was the abuse of children.

That scandal did nothing to shake her faith in God, but it crushed her faith in the men who run the church.

In his final months, Myers was still protecting pedophiles, and still lying about it with the careful word games of a smarmy public relations firm.

The recent case concerned Father Kevin Gugliotta, whose latest post was at the Holy Spirit Church in Union.

He was arrested in late October after police found child pornography on a computer at his vacation home in Pennsylvania. The obvious question is whether he endangered children in New Jersey during his decades as a priest in various parishes.

"There are no allegations that he may have engaged in similar activities in New Jersey," Myers said in a statement issued by his office.

So we can relax and be assured that our kids, at least, were safe. Right?

Wrong. In 2003, a father of two children came forward to report that Gugliotta had fondled him 15 years earlier, just before Gugliotta became a priest. The alleged victim testified to both police and the archdiocese, and Gugliotta was suspended.


So wasn't that fondling a "similar activity"? No, says the archdiocese: Child pornography is different than child abuse.

I asked if that word-parsing might have tricked some people into believing this priest's history was clean: "It's always possible people will interpret things the way they want to interpret them," says the archdiocese spokesman, Jim Goodness.

The story gets worse, and more infuriating.

It turns out that because this alleged abuse occurred before Gugliotta became a priest, Vatican canon law forbids the archdiocese from imposing punishment -- even if the charges are true. So in 2004, Gugliotta was reinstated as a priest.

Here's where Myers' sin becomes unforgiveable to me: He assigned Gugliotta to jobs where he had easy contact with children. For eight years Gugliotta worked with a youth group in Scotch Plains at St. Bartholomew the Apostle Parish.

"I had no idea," his supervisor, the Rev. John Paladino, told Mark Mueller of NJ Advance Media. "As a pastor, I would want to know something like that."

Eight years. How many kids in Scotch Plains were abused? How about kids in other parishes where he served - in Short Hills, Wyckoff, West Orange and Mahwah?

Why didn't Myers at least keep Gugliotta away from children?

"I can't answer that question," says Goodness, the spokesman. "He has the discretion to assign priests...He could have assigned him to something else."

Mueller has written about several cases like this over the years, cases where Myers' behavior makes you want to scream.

"I don't want his resignation," the mother of one victim told me during a protest in Newark four years ago. "I want Bishop Myers to go to jail."

So, for me, and for many Catholics, the weekend is bittersweet. Tobin might be just the man to clean up this mess, to restore some faith.

But Myers is escaping to his private Shangri-La in Hunterdon County. This enabler of horrific criminals will never be held accountable.

The church taught me to summon a spirit of forgiveness, and I try. But when it comes to Myers, I'm afraid the lesson didn't stick.



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