Anonymous No More: NJ Man Details His Abuse As A Boy Scout
By Russ Crespolini
October 8, 2019
|Michael Mautone says the family friend and scout leader who abused, harrassed and stalked him went on to become a Catholic priest.|
Photo by Michael Mautone
He says he survived repeated sexual abuse, stalking and harassment by a Boy Scout leader who went on to become a Catholic priest.
What made it worse was that the accused was also a family friend.
But for so long, Westfield's Michael Mautone kept his story anonymous.
Mautone is now sharing his story of survival and recovery in the hopes that it will encourage others to face the truth as he did.
By telling his story, Mautone also wanted to keep his extended family away from his abuser. He also provided a report to the Essex County's Prosecutor's Office and the Archdiocese of Newark.
"I hope this will lead to justice, accountability, and most importantly healing for individual victims as well as the community at large," Mautone said.
In a statement to Patch, the Archdiocese of Newark noted that Kevin Gugliotta, the scout leader who went on the become a priest, had been removed from ministry. He also ultimately went to jail on pornography charges, and he's now a registered sex offender.
"We continue to work diligently in collaboration with the New Jersey Attorney General's Clergy Abuse Task Force to ensure justice is served," the statement said. "Most importantly, we wish to express our sincere regret to all victims betrayed by a member of our Church and continue to offer our prayers and support as they continue on their healing journey."
Family Centered Childhood
Mautone grew up like so many people in Essex County did, born into a large Italian Catholic family where he was number nine of 10 children. His parents remained married until his father's death in 1997. Family was important to the Mautone clan, with frequent extended family gatherings and the focal point of his community was always the Saint Francis Xavier Church in Newark where he attended Mass weekly.
"Our Catholicism and relationship with God was of primary importance," he said. "Personally I found the Church a place of solace at a very young age and needed little to no prompting to attend."
Another piece of Mautone's childhood was his involvement with the Boy Scouts. And it dovetailed with the church as Troop 38 was chartered by Saint Francis Xavier Church. And it was his connection to the Boy Scouts that led him to get close to Assistant Scoutmaster Kevin Gugliotta, who Muatone said abused him.
"Kevin was a close acquaintance of my family; friendly with siblings and welcome in my home before I joined," Mautone said. "My parents, especially my father, were not keen on my involvement in Scouts and ironically the fact Kevin was a leader brought them some comfort."
Ironic because, according to Mautone, Gugliotta used their connection to gain Mautone's trust and began abusing him in 1986. In the years leading up to the abuse, Mautone said Gugliotta was the most prominent and the most integral person to the organization of his troop and all of the good memories they made.
"He was very tied to all of the Scouting activities I loved and Scouting goals achieved and yet to be achieved. Also during this time between 1981 and 1986 Kevin grew personally closer to me and my family. He was essentially accepted as a member of the family and I saw him as more of a friend and even a brother, than a Scout leader," Mautone noted.
It was during this time that Mautone said he trusted Kevin enough to go on short overnight backpacking and other trips alone with him. And that was when the incidents began, according to Mautone.
Mautone told Patch the first incident he remembered was in 1986 on a weekend backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail near Stokes State Forest in North Jersey. Mautone said he went on the trip in part to distract himself from the death of his oldest brother.
"We spent the night in a lean-to, which is basically an open three walled structure," Mautone said. "I was sleeping and then stirred a bit due to feeling Kevin's hand on my buttocks. I was still half asleep, kind of rolled over and it stopped."
The next morning, unsolicited, Mautone said Gugliotta told a story that he had a dream about a woman, a co-worker as a way to excuse his behavior the night before. Incidents like this kept happening, Mautone said, with Gugliotta sometimes coming up with a story to explain his behavior.
"I did not respond in a way to protect myself and instead responded with disbelief, even though this was happening to me," he said. "At the time it was easier to believe that story than to believe that this person who cared about me and did so many good things for me and my family was now molesting me."
The behavior escalated to more unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances that included touching Mautone's genitalia, Mautone said.
"The physical abuse lasted until 1989 with a stray incident of him touching me while I was sleeping in 1991," he said. "In 1989 I first confronted him to tell him I was not comfortable with some of his behavior and began to set up some physical boundaries."
Mautone said after the physical guidelines were set, the sexual harassment continued, prompting Mautone to distance himself from Gugliotta even further.
"He remained a lingering presence around my family through his time in the seminary and his ordination in 1996," Mautone said.
Yes, Gugliotta was studying to become a Catholic priest.
"He tried to convince me to participate in his first Mass and even stalked me at my off- campus apartment at grad school," Mautone said. "I refused those requests and confronted him generally about the abuse citing some of his actions were criminal."
According to Mautone, when confronted, Gugliotta said "I know.'"
Too Much To Bear
Mautone said that family and friends told him Gugliotta mentioned him from the pulpit at his first Mass as someone he hurt and he hoped for his forgiveness. Despite trying to keep distance from newly-minted clergyman, Mautone said Gugitotta was too interconnected with his family. Gugliotta performed the burial rites for Mautone's father, baptized some of his nieces and nephews and buried his Grandmother.
"Finally it was all too much to bear and I told my mom and siblings about the abuse, and at the same time called Kevin to let him know I was doing so," Mautone said.
Mautone said part of the reason he told his family was because Gugliotta was close to some of Mautone's siblings, who had begun to have children.
"I was aware of Kevin golfing with my oldest brother who had a son and two daughters by then," Mautone said.
It was then that Gugliotta withdrew from Mautone's family.
"To my knowledge Kevin has never reached out to any of my family members to deny or apologize for his betrayal of our trust," he said.
Over time, Mautone said he told people bits and pieces of his story. According to Mautone, he would tell it "from the perspective of where he was at in terms of making sense of the abuse."
In 1992, he told his wife, who was his girlfriend at the time, that Gugliotta was gay and in love with him.
"This is what Kevin told me around 1989 and I stuck with that as a way to make sense of things for a while. It is clear now touching someone when they are asleep and/or when it is unwelcome has nothing to do with love," he said. "From 1992 to around 1996 I told family and friends, 'we had a falling out.' If they pressed for more information I again went to the 'he is gay and in love with me and had a hard time with the fact I did not feel the same.'"
He said he told his wife more in 1996 before their 1997 wedding, but not in explicit detail, Mautone noted.
"She was supportive," he said.
As he told people, like his family in 1999, Mautone said they believed him and at the same time did not press for more details as it was understandably difficult to absorb.
"The only consequence for Kevin in regards to my abuse is being isolated from my family and knowing they know his secrets in that regard," Mautone said.
Others At Risk
Mautone began to realize others, beyond his family, may be at risk between 2001 and 2002 and said that prompted him to seek the counsel of another friend who was a Catholic priest.
"His response was more or less a warning that if I went to the authorities my story would quickly become public and my name would be dragged through the mud," Mautone said. "My gut told me this was poor guidance."
From there, a friend put Mautone in touch with a representative from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) who put him in touch with an attorney named Greg Gianforcaro.
Mautone went to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office to report the abuse anonymously. Spokesperson for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office Katherine Carter told Patch there is a report on record that Mautone made in the early 2000's.
When Mautone reported his abuse to the authorities the law said the victims only had two years to pursue litigation, and only until age 20. The current law, passed this year, extends that timeline to seven years and age 55. Neither laws would have helped Mautone's case.
"Very early in the process I knew I was beyond any statutes of limitations and still I chose to report my abuse in order to protect others," Mautone said.
The next step for Mautone was the Archdiocese of Newark review board where he was represented by Gianforcaro. He gave a written and verbal account in October of 2003. Several months later Mautone received a letter from the review board stating they found nothing to substantiate his claims. Mautone noted that in 2016, Jim Goodness, the vice chancellor and director of communications of the Archdiocese, said Mautone's claims were credible but the word was the Church could not limit his ministry based on the allegations since the abuse dated to before he entered the seminary.
The end result was Gugliotta being reinstated and assigned to St. Joseph's in West Orange in 2004, and by 2006 was assigned to Saint Bartholomew's in Scotch Plains. Mautone said he was unaware of the Saint Bartholomew's assignment, which placed Gugliotta three miles from his home.
Mautone found out about Gugliotta's various assignments when the priest was arrested on child pornography charges. Gugliotta was charged with 20 counts of possession of child pornography and 20 counts of dissemination of child pornography, the result of a multi-county and multi-state investigation, according to the Wayne County, Pennsylvania District Attorney.
The Archdiocese of Newark removed Gugliotta from his ministry position after he was charged.
"The Archdiocese of Newark takes very seriously any and all complaints of sexual misconduct by members of the clergy, religious and lay staff of the Archdiocese, its parishes and schools," said Goodness at the time of the arrest.
Gugliotta pleaded guilty more than four months after he was accused of uploading images to the website "Chat-Step" while staying in his vacation home in Goulsboro, Pa. According to North Jersey.com, Gugliotta pleaded guilty in March 2017 to a single count of disseminating child pornography after prosecutors dropped dozens of other charges that he possessed and distributed child porn.
Pretrial records show the 55-year-old Gugliotta told probation officers he felt God was attacking him when he lost poker tournaments and games, and got "revenge" by collecting the porn, the report said.
Gugliotta served a short jail sentence under the terms of the plea deal and is now a registered sex offender, according to the report.
In February of this year, Gugliotta was named on a list of priests "credibly accused" of child sex abuse. According to the Newark Archdiocese Director of Communications and Public Relations Maria Margiotta, Gugliotta was permanently removed from ministry in 2016.
"Steps to laicize him were taken prior to the latest allegation. He is being monitored currently by the civil authorities in Pennsylvania," Margiotta said in a statement.
For his part, Mautone began seeking treatment for his issues because he said he did not like who had become as a person, especially in how he was treating his wife and children.
"I was often short, critical, abrasive and impatient and treated them in ways they did not deserve," he said. "I also often feel alone, empty and disconnected, suffering from significant depression and experienced the beginning of suicidal ideation."
By chance Mautone said he became aware of a behavioral approach known as DBT: Dialectical Behavior Therapy and put his name on a list for a local program.
"DBT is a serious commitment of at least two years of one time per week individual and one time per week group therapy. It also includes the ability to call your therapist for phone coaching during business hours," Mautone said.
Mautone said after two years of hard, focused work he began to directly address the trauma of his sexual abuse.
"I have come to recognize that my mind simply could not reconcile the abuse I was experiencing with Kevin, the person who I trusted implicitly, who I saw as a mentor, a brother, and a constant source of support." he said. "If anyone else was abusing me Kevin would have likely been the first person I would have told. Instead that person was the very person abusing me. Therefore, any other thoughts and emotions were quickly just locked away in a box in my brain."
Mautone said this is part of the body's fear response to danger.
"When we think of this we often think of 'fight' or 'flight' and tend to think of the third and likely most common response 'freeze.' Like the deer in headlights trying to make sense of all of the information, some unexpected, coming in," he said.
Mautone said this automatic coping mechanism forced him to look at things a certain way so his brain could make sense of them. Gugliotta was tied to the Boy Scouts, an organization Mautone loved and got so much out of. That made it all the more painful to deal with. Despite that, Mautone said he still participated, excelled and attained the rank of Eagle Scout just before his 18th birthday. But confronting Gugliotta as a child could have opened him up to more abuse.
"Simply put, to face the truth and acknowledge the abuse, to confront Kevin would mean things as I knew them falling apart," he said.
So Mautone said he kept things shut in the box where he did not have to look at them or deal with them. He noted that by the time he distanced himself from Gugliotta it was hard to look back so he avoided things. He eventually began to avoid all of the things he loved to avoid memories of the abuse.
"I stopped going backpacking and camping and I stopped my involvement in Boy Scouts," Mautone said.
Mautone said the constant feeling of being somewhere but not fully present, somehow disconnected, became the norm. Even more overwhelming was the experience of being in a room full of people and still feeling completely alone, he said.
" And what I know now is that I trusted Kevin so much and even loved him like a brother that the abuse and betrayal was an extremely big disappointment and loss. So what leads to the fog and the disconnection is difficulty trusting anyone after such a betrayal," Mautone said. "This led to spending less time with family and friends and making little effort to make new friends. This big disappointment lead to difficulty handling any even very small disappointments."
Mautone said he came to realize he never allowed myself to grieve the loss of the close friend and mentor that he thought he had.
"Just recently I began to grieve. And what I grieve most is that Kevin is truly an intelligent and talented person with such great potential to serve any friends and community. He is a self taught musician who knows how to play, write and transpose music," he said. "A Kevin without the propensity for abuse and everything that comes with that would likely have continued to be a significant part of the life of me and my family. Perhaps even taught my daughters to play the piano. All of this was lost to his urges and propensity for sexual abuse."
Opening The Box
Mautone said that when he decided to go public with his story and his allegations it was, in part, because he wanted to help other victims and let them know he will stand with them.
"I hope any and all victims of Kevin Gugliotta find the courage to come forward, not necessarily go public, and report their abuse to their local county prosecutors office and the NJ Attorney Generals Clergy Sexual Abuse Hotline," Mautone said. "I hope that everyone who grew to love and trust Kevin as a member of their parish community can face and come to terms with what Kevin did."
Mautone said those who do cannot come forward need to find someone to talk to about their experience.
"I know from personal experience that holding onto such secrets and not processing the abuse has profound effects on all of one's relationships and participation and enjoyment of the activities of life," Mautone said.
Mautone said that when he opened the box and people told him they were sorry he had to relive the experience he came to the realization that by locking the feelings away, he never really lived it to begin with. He said shoving it in the box allowed him be numb to the experience and he never fully lived or worked through the experience of abuse. He never allowed himself to fully feel and process all of the justified feelings, emotions and thoughts.
"To understand fully why I did and did not do certain things," he said. "To let go of any remnants of feelings of guilt or shame. And finally I am no longer confused and I accept that Kevin sexually abused me, and, though I cannot read his mind, he likely never cared."
Of all the things he has learned, the one thing he wants to impart on victims of sexual abuse is that they to tell someone, Mautone said.. They have to confront what was done to them. They cannot just let it go.
"You have to to open the box, look at what is inside, fully live it, experience it, process it; and only then can you begin to let it go and move on. Like me, you may not be ready or have the skills necessary to get you through this process. You have to seek help and guidance to prepare yourself and then begin to process the abuse, work through it and move on," Mautone said. "This will lead to self understanding and self compassion and most importantly allow you to step out of the cloud, improve your relationships with others and enjoy a life worth living."
For his part, Mautone is continuing his own therapy and enjoying his life with his wife of 22 years, Sue Pye and their 16-year-old and nine-year-old daughters. He also is holding a special event plans to share his story directly with his audience. The event is at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10 in the Lacey Ballroom at Shady Rest at Scotch Hills Country Club.
"I also want to allow others to participate freely in asking me questions and sharing their stories and thoughts as they so choose," he said. "I also plan to offer insight, advice and support as a survivor of sexual abuse well along a path to healing. I know there must be many who feel conflicted between the apparent good done by Kevin Gugliotta through his ministry, and now the sense of disappointment and betrayal in learning of his alleged criminal activity and abuse of his position."
Mautone said he is also aware of the additional struggle between continued faith in the Church and grasping the failures of Archdiocesan leadership.
"I am all too familiar with the pain and suffering caused by sexual abuse and holding onto the secrets of others. Such things take much time and effort to process," he said. "I hope participating in this event and sharing this time together can help some take a step away from denial and another step towards acknowledging what has transpired."
North Jersey.com reported that a victim under the pseudonym Richard Roe filed a lawsuit claiming the Archdiocese failed to act on abuse claims against Gugliotta back in 2003.
Mautone said when he learned of the lawsuit is when he decided to come forward and no longer be anonymous.
"Learning of the new victim is what prompted me to go public," he said. " The chances we are the only two victims of Kevin are slim to none. "
Mautone noted that the event is open to all, but hopes that parishioners from places Gugliotta was stationed, St. Rose of Lima, Short Hills; St. Elizabeth, Wychoff; Seton Hall University, Campus Ministry; St Joseph's, West Orange; St. Bartholomew's, Scotch Plains; Ramapo College, Campus Ministry; Immaculate Conception, Mahwah; Holy Spirit, Union will attend.
"I know the betrayal of trust goes well beyond the physical victims within such communities," he said.