Diocese Is Loser in Abuse Ruling
Attorneys for Abused Man to Get Records Related to Diocese's Probe into Case
By Terrie Morgan-Besecker firstname.lastname@example.org
February 14, 2006
SCRANTON – Attorneys for a man who was sexually abused by the Rev. Albert Liberatore have won the battle to obtain psychological records and investigative documents related to the Diocese of Scranton's investigation into the abuse.
In orders issued Friday and Monday, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo ordered all documents be turned over to attorneys representing the man, identified only as John Doe, in a civil suit against Liberatore and the diocese.
The ruling is a significant victory for the man, who is attempting to prove former Bishop James Timlin was notified as early as 1997 of sexual abuse allegations against Liberatore, but failed to remove him from the priesthood, according to the lawsuit filed in 2004.
Daniel Brier of Scranton, the man's attorney, had sought the meeting minutes of the Diocesan Review Committee, which investigates sexual abuse allegations against clergy, as well as documents related to a private investigator's work on the case. He also sought records of Dr. John Lemoncelli, a psychologist who treated Liberatore at the diocese's request.
Caputo in December ordered the diocese to turn over all documents to him so that he could conduct a review to determine if they were relevant to the case.
The diocese complied, but continued to object to providing the documents to opposing attorneys.
In court papers, diocesan attorneys argued much of the information from the Review Board was obtained through confidential investigations that, if released, could harm the church's ability to investigate future abuse allegations. The diocese also said the release could harm alleged victims who made the reports with the expectation their privacy would be maintained, as well as clergy against whom unfounded allegations had been made.
In a written opinion issued Monday, Caputo said he did not believe confidentiality was essential for the board to evaluate evidence concerning sexual abuse, particularly since it was obligated to report the allegations to law enforcement.
"The concealment of sexual abuse behavior toward minors cannot be outweighed by the need for confidentiality between the Board and the Bishop. It simply turns civil society upside down," Caputo wrote.
Caputo did express concern for alleged victims and clergy who were subject to unfounded allegations. His order directs attorneys to suggest a protective order that would prevent the public disclosure of that information.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in December 2004, stemmed from Liberatore's abuse of a teenage altar boy whom he had befriended through a youth group. Liberatore faced multiple charges in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, as well as New York, where he once traveled with the boy.
In the Luzerne County case, authorities said Liberatore molested the teen during overnight stays at the Sacred Heart of Jesus rectory in Duryea from 1999 to 2004. Liberatore pleaded guilty in May 2005 to indecent assault and other related offenses and was sentenced to five years probation.
Joseph O'Brien, one of the attorneys representing the diocese, did not return a phone message Monday seeking comment on the rulings.
Terrie Morgan-Besecker, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7179
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