Priest's Removal Atypical
It Was the Vatican's Decision to Remove Admitted Molester Albert M. Liberatore
By Dave Janoski firstname.lastname@example.org
The Times Leader [Scranton PA]
July 28, 2006
[For more information on Liberatore, see The
Sins of Our Fathers, by Dave Janoski, Times Leader (7/9/06).]
The Vatican's decision to remove admitted child molester Albert M. Liberatore
Jr. from the priesthood is a rare and severe punishment for the former
Duryea pastor, a step one church observer said is "analogous to the
Liberatore is serving 10 years' probation for sexually abusing a teenage
boy from 1999 through 2004, beginning when the boy was 13. The victim
has sued Liberatore and officials from the Scranton Diocese in federal
court, alleging the diocese was aware of abuse allegations against Liberatore
in 2000, but took no meaningful action until 2004.
Liberatore's removal or "laicization," is a "fairly rare
step" usually "reserved for the most serious and most egregious
violations," said John L. Allen Jr., senior correspondent in Rome
for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newsweekly sold in
96 countries. "It's the supreme penalty under canon law. It's fairly
Only 72 of the 2,902 priests accused of sexual abuse listed in an online
database maintained by the independent, nonprofit group BishopAccountabilty.org
have been laicized. All but 11 of the laicizations occurred after American
bishops set up new, stricter guidelines for handling such allegations
About 4,400 Roman Catholic priests in the United States were accused of
sexual misconduct between 1950 and 2002, according to a study based on
diocesan reports and commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But the number of priests laicized is "in the dozens, rather than
the hundreds or thousands" Allen said.
At least 25 priests in the Scranton Diocese have been accused of sexual
misconduct involving minors since 1950, but it appears none had been removed
from the priesthood before Liberatore. Since 2002, at least 11 local priests
have been removed from ministry – barred from saying Mass or wearing clerical
garb in public – for alleged sexual misconduct. While they have no diocesan
assignments, they technically remain priests, answerable to their bishop.
Diocesan spokesman William Genello did not return e-mail and phone messages
seeking comment on the Liberatore matter Thursday.
Liberatore's removal was announced in an official notice in the latest
edition of The Catholic Light, a diocesan newspaper published every three
weeks. Signed by Chancellor James Earley, the notice said the action was
"in response to a finding of sexual misconduct involving a minor"
and "for the good of the Church."
Liberatore, 42, is the former pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in
Duryea. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Only the Vatican can remove someone from the priesthood. Under guidelines
adopted in 2002, abuse allegations against a priest must be brought before
a diocesan review board composed mostly of lay Catholics. If the board
finds the allegations credible, the priest is suspended and the case is
forwarded to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.
The congregation, composed of 23 cardinals, archbishops and bishops, hears
evidence and then decides whether to reinstate the priest, order a church
trial in the priest's home country, order the priest's bishop to remove
him from ministry or recommend that the pope laicize the priest.
The last "requires a personal act of the pope," Allen said.
"When the pope does it, it is final and unappealable."
Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit
school in California, who has written two books on abuse by priests, says
laicization is often reserved for accused priests who refuse to submit
to church discipline.
"Even priests who misbehave in significant ways may still remain
as priests. They cannot say Mass in public or wear clerical garb in public.
They're still priests, but they're living in a controlled environment.
"Usually you see (laicization) when someone happens to be non-compliant....
when something is so egregious the church feels they can't handle this
It's unclear what effect Liberatore's removal will have on the civil suit
against him and the diocese, which is scheduled to go to trial in March.
Neither Liberatore's attorney nor the diocese's returned phone messages
TO LEARN MORE
BishopAccountabilty.org: Documents, articles and other data on the abuse
scandal in the Catholic Church can be found at www.bishop-accountability.org.
The Catholic Light: The Scranton Diocese’s newspaper can be found
online at www.dioceseofscranton.org.
National Catholic Reporter: The newsweekly’s Web site is at ncronline.org.
Times Leader Associate Editor/Investigative Dave Janoski can be reached