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  Priest Hit with Sex Charges

By Terrie Morgan-Besecker tmorgan@leader.net
Times Leader [Scranton PA]
Downloaded May 20, 2004

SCRANTON - An investigation conducted by a private investigator for the Diocese of Scranton has led to sexual assault charges against a priest who formerly served at Sacred Heart Church in Duryea.

The Rev. Albert M. Liberatore Jr., 40, was charged Monday with indecent assault and corruption of a minor after an altar boy alleged he was molested about two years ago inside an office at the University of Scranton, where Liberatore taught.

The victim, then 17, told police Liberatore buried his face in his lap and rubbed up against his genital area in an attempt to arouse him, according to an arrest affidavit.

At a press conference Tuesday, Lackawanna County District Attorney Andrew Jarbola said he expects additional charges will be filed against Liberatore by Luzerne County prosecutors in connection with assaults on the youth that occurred at Sacred Heart Church, and by New York City police for assaults that occurred when Liberatore took the youth to Greenwich Village.

At this point Jarbola said police have no evidence there are other victims, but asked anyone with any information on this or potentially other cases to contact police.

Jarbola and Luzerne County District Attorney Dave Lupas said the Diocese of Scranton contacted them on May 13 to report the allegations. The diocese was first made aware of the accusations in January, but it took until now to verify them.

"They had allegations come from another person, not the victim. The victim initially denied them at the time. The diocese did not know what they had. That was the purpose of hiring the private investigator," Jarbola said.

Jarbola said the investigator interviewed multiple people and eventually was able to obtain a statement from the victim.

" I'm satisfied that once they received the information and had it corroborated from their private investigator they turned it over to us," Jarbola said.

According to an arrest affidavit:

The victim, now 19, said he met Liberatore through a youth group he led at Sacred Heart. Liberatore would take him for dinner and to the rectory at Sacred Heart to watch movies.

Liberatore, now of West Locust Street, Scranton, also took the victim to Greenwich Village in New York, where they stayed in a hotel and had sexual contact, according to the affidavit.

The alleged victim told authorities that in May or June of 2002 he was studying in a room adjacent to Liberatore's office in St. Thomas Hall at the University of Scranton. The victim said Liberatore was trying to convince him to break up with his girlfriend, telling him that he (the victim) was a homosexual.

When the victim reported he did not break up with his girlfriend, Liberatore knelt in front of the youth, who was seated, put his arms around his waist and buried his face in his crotch.

Liberatore was removed this week from all ministerial duties, including his teaching post at the University of Scranton, said Maria Orzel, spokeswoman for the diocese.

Orzel said Liberatore was not immediately removed once the allegations arose because the diocese had to conduct an investigation to determine if the accusations were credible.

"The priest initially denied the information we had. The diocese proceeded with its own investigation and when it obtained verifiable information, it reported it to authorities immediately," Orzel said.

Orzel said Liberatore has been a professor of theology at the university since July 2003. Before that he served as an administrator at Sacred Heart from July 1997 to July 1998, when he became the church's pastor. He held that post until he left for the teaching position.

Previous to Sacred Heart, Liberatore was head of the faculty at St. Pius X seminary in Dalton, and also served as a pastor at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton and St. John the Evangelist church in Pittston.

Liberatore was arraigned Monday night and was released on $50,000 unsecured bail. He faces a preliminary hearing in Scranton on May 24.

FOR THE TIMES LEADER/AMIEE DILGER

Lackawanna County District Attorney Andrew Jarbola, left, and Luzerne County District Attorney Dave Lupas answer questions on Tuesday concerning sexual assault charges filed against the Rev. Albert M. Liberatore Jr. The officials spoke at a press conference at the Lackawanna County DA's Office.

 
 

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