Diocese to Pay $3M
By Erin L. Nissley
November 9, 2007
The Diocese of Scranton will pay $3 million to a man who brought a federal civil suit claiming he was sexually abused by a priest as a teen and that the Catholic Church did nothing about it.
The man, identified as "John Doe" in court filings, claims former priest Albert M. Liberatore Jr. sexually abused him from 1999 to 2002, beginning when the plaintiff was 14.
Mr. Liberatore, now 42, was pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Duryea when the abuse occurred. He pleaded guilty in 2005 in Luzerne County and New York to sexually abusing the victim and was sentenced to 10 years probation and defrocked.
The suit also named the diocese, Sacred Heart, retired Bishop James C. Timlin and the Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz, the diocesan vicar of priests when the abuse occurred, for allegedly failing to heed warnings about the abuse and not removing Mr. Liberatore.
The victim, now 22 and living in New York, said the abuse led to his addiction to drugs and alcohol and made it difficult for him to succeed in school. His suit asked for monetary damages, including an award for pain and suffering, emotional distress and mental anguish.
The victim's attorney, Daniel T. Brier, said the settlement was reached late Wednesday and approved by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo on Thursday morning.
"This case, from the beginning, has been about one thing: The responsibility — legal and moral — that everyone has ... to protect children," Mr. Brier said.
"That (responsibility) includes Catholic clergy."
A statement released by the diocese Thursday afternoon said "a full determination of how the payment for the settlement will be satisfied has not been made" but "it is certain that absolutely no parish funds of any kind will be used to satisfy the settlement."
The same statement also offered an apology to the victim and his family for the harm Mr. Liberatore caused.
"Today's settlement represents the Diocese's efforts to assist the victim to heal and to move on to achieve a productive and fulfilling life," the statement reads. "The Diocese fully accepts its responsibility toward this victim, and our hope is that true healing can commence now that a settlement has been reached."
Over the past two days, Mr. Brier and attorney Donna Walsh called several Catholic officials, including a former vicar of clergy, to testify about Mr. Liberatore and the decision to keep him as a priest even after concerns surfaced regarding a peculiar relationship he forged with another young man in the mid-1990s.
Monsignor Joseph Bambera, the former vicar of clergy for the Diocese of Scranton, said the bishop was solely responsible for deciding what to do with priests accused of sexually abusing minors.
Although several priests raised concerns about Mr. Liberatore's relationship with a man in his early 20s, Bishop Timlin decided only to move Mr. Liberatore from his post at the now-defunct St. Pius X Seminary to Sacred Heart, according to testimony at trial.
After the settlement was reached, Bishop Timlin told The Times-Tribune he had been looking forward to taking the stand and explaining his side of things.
"We followed diocesan policy on this," he said. "Of course we did."
His attorney, James O'Brien, then pulled him away from reporters.
Mr. O'Brien declined comment on why the diocese decided to settle the case.
Mr. Brier had a theory.
"Fear," he said. "They were afraid that a jury in Northeastern Pennsylvania would finally hold them accountable."
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