Former chaplain denies allegation of sexual abuse

Jun 26, 2002 | All, Bruno Ugliano

A Bergen County priest is denying the accusations of a woman who said he and two other Catholic priests sexually abused her when she was a teenager in Union County 20 years ago, his attorney said Tuesday.

The Rev. Joseph Rice has been on administrative leave from his job as chaplain at Bergen Regional Medical Center since March 31, when the Archdiocese of Newark began looking into the allegations against him, said Jim Goodness, spokesman for the diocese.

Rice hired Newark attorney Gerald Krovatin on Tuesday, after Union County prosecutors confirmed an investigation into the woman’s accusations, which date to the late Seventies and early Eighties when he was a parish priest at St. John the Apostle in Linden.

“He vehemently denies this,” said Krovatin, who said Rice does not recall ever meeting his accuser. Neither the attorney nor Goodness would say where Rice has been staying since being reassigned.

Rice served full time as a chaplain at Bergen Regional since 1994, giving spiritual counseling to patients at the Paramus psychiatric hospital and its accompanying nursing home, said Mark Guarino, director of the county health department, which funds the chaplain program. “He has done a good job, and there have been no complaints made about him during his time here.”

The woman also said she was abused in separate incidents by two other priests – the Rev. Edward Eilert, pastor of St. Philomena’s Roman Catholic church in Livingston, and the Rev. Bruno Ugliano, a chaplain at Rider College (now University) in Lawrenceville.

The woman, a 38-year-old resident of North Carolina, does not want to be identified, but is being represented by Warren County attorney Gregory Gianforcaro. She declined to be interviewed Tuesday.

Gianforcaro would not reveal the specifics of her accusations except to say that the alleged abuse by Rice occurred in spring 1979, when she was 14. The woman, who has suffered years of emotional turmoil, was motivated to report the abuse after a friend who also had been victimized by a priest committed suicide last fall, Gianforcaro said.

Union County prosecutors and diocesan officials also would not release details of the accusations against the three priests. It’s unclear whether the alleged crimes could even be prosecuted since the statute of limitations may have run out, authorities said.

Like Rice, Eilert was removed from his post after diocese officials determined that the woman’s accusations were credible enough to warrant further investigation. The diocese is following a new policy U.S. bishops adopted this month in response to the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the American church since January.

But Ugliano, a member of the independently governed Benedictine order of priests, has remained in his post. His attorney, Michael Critchley of West Orange, said Ugliano also denies the accusations and is troubled by the fact that the allegations will likely tar his name forever even if he is eventually cleared.

However, a victim’s advocacy group that has counseled the woman, believes her. “We have a sixth sense about these things,” said Paul Steidler, spokesman for the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests, in explaining why it sent a volunteer to accompany the woman when she told her story to a church review board.

Former chaplain denies allegation of sexual abuse
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
June 26, 2002