Criminal Charges Dismissed against Father Philip Altavilla
August 2, 2014
A judge has dismissed criminal charges against a well-known priest from the Diocese of Scranton.
Father Philip Altavilla was charged in April with having inappropriate contact with a 13-year-old girl back in 1998.
The case was thrown out Friday morning because of a statue of limitations issue.
Father Altavilla's accuser says the contact happened in 1998 but she did not come forward until this April (2014).
In dealing with a case like this, state law from 1998 dictates how long she legally had to come forward for criminal charges to be filed.
After examining the issue, a Lackawanna County judge said that time had passed and the District Attorney's Office now agrees, saying they don't plan to appeal.
While considered a legal win, Altavilla's attorney says the damage has already been done.
"It's not a win for Father Altavilla because his reputation is ruined. You can't unring the bell!" defense attorney Paul Walker said.
Altavilla was the pastor at Saint Peter's Cathedral, the mother-church of the Diocese of Scranton at the time of his arrest four months ago.
He was accused of giving the 13-year-old girl alcohol after midnight mass in 1998 and then allegedly touching her feet and legs as he drove her home.
"We felt it was the right thing to do at that point in time. I still believe that," District Attorney Andy Jarbola said.
District Attorney Andy Jarbola defended the charges that were originally brought, saying their dismissal had nothing to do with the truthfulness of the accuser.
"The only solace that we can gain from this matter is the fact that the defendent will not be committing any acts like this under the color of the cloth anymore," Jarbola said.
After the noon-time mass at Saint Peter's Cathedral, parishoners reacted to the news.
Many had known Father Altavilla for years.
"In all those times, he was a really, a very decent, good pastor," Mildred DeCelles of Dunmore said.
While Altavilla's attorney admitted his client has always admitted to touching the girl's feet, he maintained it was never criminal in nature.
"That's what again surprised me was the fact that he admitted it," Steve Andrichak of Sterling said. "I have trouble believing that he was capable of that kind of behavior because he never exhibited anything like that when he was our parish priest in Lake Ariel."
The Diocese of Scranton released Friday afternoon. It read,
"The Diocese of Scranton was informed today that criminal charges resulting from allegations of sexual abuse of a minor against the Reverend Philip Altavilla, former pastor of Saint Peterís Cathedral Parish, Scranton, have been dropped.
While it appears that the civil investigation into Father Altavillaís inappropriate behavior has been resolved, in consideration of the circumstances surrounding the priestís arrest, further investigation is warranted from an ecclesiastical standpoint prior to the rendering of a final disposition regarding his status in the Church.
Until such time, Father Altavilla remains on a leave of absence and is prohibited from exercising priestly ministry."