Monsignor: Church Let Abuse Go on
He Says before Liberatore, Church Failed to Stop Another Priest Who Repeatedly Abused
By Terrie Morgan-Besecker
November 8, 2007
SCRANTON – Several years before the Rev. Albert Liberatore was charged with molesting an altar boy, another priest within the Diocese of Scranton admitted to sexually assaulting two different boys, a church official testified Wednesday.
That priest was sent for counseling and cleared to return to another parish, only to abuse a third child, Monsignor Joseph Bambera said.
The admission, elicited by an attorney representing Liberatore's victim in a civil suit against the diocese, is expected to be a key issue in determining whether the church is held financially responsible for Liberatore's actions.
Attorney Daniel Brier has said he intends to prove former Bishop James Timlin made a practice of transferring priests accused of sexual misconduct, rather than remove them from duty.
Liberatore was among that group, leading to the abuse of Brier's client from 1999 to 2002, beginning when the victim, now an adult, was age 14.
Liberatore pleaded guilty in 2005 in Luzerne County Court to sexually abusing the boy and was sentenced to five years probation.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges Timlin and other church officials ignored clear signs Liberatore was engaging in "grooming" – a practice known to be used by pedophiles to ingratiate themselves into a child's life so they can sexually abuse them.
On Wednesday, day two of the trial, Brier hammered away at Bambera for more than two hours. His questions focused on the actions Bambera took in the case involving the other priest, identified in court only as "Father Ned," and his knowledge of allegations of sexual misconduct that first surfaced about Liberatore in 1997.
Keir Bancroft, the subject of those 1997 allegations involving Liberatore, also took the stand Wednesday and described how Liberatore made unwanted sexual advances against him when Bancroft, then 23, worked with Liberatore at the St. Pius X Seminary in Dalton.
Testifying Wednesday morning, Bambera, who served as a supervisor of diocesan priests from 1995 to 1998, acknowledged he helped investigate the Father Ned case, which came to light after the mother of one of the victims alerted church officials she had witnessed "inappropriate behavior" with her son.
That behavior included buying her son gifts and ingratiating himself as a "father figure" to the boy – a pattern Liberatore would duplicate with his victim several years later, several witnesses testified Tuesday.
Bambera testified the diocese implemented a policy in 1993 that addressed how to handle allegations of priest sexual abuse. He conceded a key section of that policy – reporting suspected abuse of minors to police – was not followed in the case of Father Ned, who was never prosecuted criminally.
Bambera also testified he was aware of the 1997 incident at St. Pius in which Liberatore and Bancroft got into a heated, alcohol-fueled argument in Liberatore's room that some observers described as a "lover's spat."
While acknowledging the incident caused him concern, Bambera said he never questioned Bancroft afterward, relying instead on assurances by Liberatore that nothing inappropriate had happened.
But it had, according to Bancroft.
Testifying Wednesday afternoon, Bancroft said following the argument, seminary staff left him in Liberatore's room overnight. He awoke in Liberatore's bed to discover Liberatore fondling him.
It was one of several unwanted sexual acts Liberatore committed against him, Bancroft said. He never volunteered information regarding those acts, he said, because he feared Liberatore would kill himself.
And no diocesan official ever asked him.
"Who was the first person to ever ask you about what happened that night after they put you in Father Liberatore's bed?" Brier asked.
"That would be you," Bancroft replied.
Testimony will resume at 9:30 a.m. today before U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo.
Terrie Morgan-Besecker, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 570-829-7179
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.