Timlin told staff to report abuse, but he didn’t
By Borys Krawczeniuk
August 26, 2018
In July 1985, Diocese of Scranton Bishop the Most Rev. James C. Timlin issued a memo instructing priests and diocese staff to follow a law that requires reporting child abuse to a state agency.
Timlin then repeatedly ignored his own advice, according to a statewide investigating grand jury report that exposes decades of priests’ sexual abuse of children in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses, including Scranton. The Citizens’ Voice does not identify victims of sexual abuse.
In an eight-page written response to the grand jury, Timlin’s lawyers say he acted with his best judgment and his handling of clergy abuse cases improved as his understanding of medical science’s ability to identify and treat offenders evolved.
The grand jury report shows Timlin acted quicker and more decisively against abusive priests over time and he organized the Diocese of Scranton’s first significant system for dealing with abuses by 1993. Timlin became bishop in April 1984, and served until July 2003.
In 2002, Timlin ordered a review of all past cases, removed 10 priests from ministry and adopted a zero-tolerance policy. However, that was only after the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued new guidelines on dealing with priest sex abuse earlier in the year.
Nonetheless, his July 23, 1985, memo still shows he believed much earlier that the law requires reporting abuse.
First in effect in 1975, the Child Protective Services Law did not specifically require priests and other clergy to report abuse until July 1995, but Timlin’s 1985 memo cites the law’s obligation to report.
“The Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Act requires, under penalty, the reporting to civil authorities (of) actual and suspected cases of child abuse,” says Timlin’s memo, included in the grand jury report.
The memo outlines procedures and offers the bishop’s office’s help in complying with the law. Timlin’s memo never specifically mentions sexual abuse, but the law clearly requires reporting sexual abuse to the state Department of Human Services.
Ignores own directive
Over and over, as the grand jury report shows, Timlin failed to follow his own instructions, even as he heard from one victim after another alleging priest sexual abuse. Most cases stayed a secret until the grand jury report became public Aug. 14.
The report found that 301 priests abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s in the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses. In the Scranton diocese, 59 priests are accused of abuse in the report; the diocese named 70 on its website.
Timlin’s successors, the Most Rev. Joseph F. Martino and current bishop the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, regularly acted far more decisively than Timlin, though by the time they became bishops public scrutiny of and pressure on the Catholic Church had increased significantly.
Timlin inherited abuse cases that a predecessor, the Most Rev. J. Carroll McCormick, kept secret. He was in a position to know what McCormick, bishop until February 1983, did about abusive priests.
Timlin began serving as McCormick’s secretary starting in September 1966, and became a monsignor while secretary in August 1967, chancellor in April 1972, and auxiliary bishop in September 1976.
“The newly appointed bishop ... is highly qualified to fulfill the responsibilities of this office to which he has been assigned by our Holy Father,” McCormick said when Timlin became auxiliary bishop.
Bad case after memo
Timlin ordered up his memo as one of the worst cases of child sexual abuse by a diocesan priest unfolded, according to the grand jury report.
The Rev. Thomas D. Skotek, a priest since 1963, sexually assaulted a minor girl while pastor of St. Casimir’s Church in Freeland between January 1980 and March 1985. Skotek impregnated the girl, then arranged an abortion, a grave violation of Catholic teachings.
Timlin transferred Skotek to St. Stanislaus Church in Hazleton in March 1985, where he remained until resigning Oct. 13, 1986. The grand jury says Timlin knew all about the conduct by then.
A report to law enforcement may have brought charges, but Timlin ordered an evaluation for Skotek at a Maryland center, and sent him off with a sympathetic letter that said he shared Skotek’s grief.
By January 1987, Skotek was reassigned to St. Aloysius Church in Wilkes-Barre, where he remained for the next 12 years.
Once the pregnancy and abortion became known, Skotek was unable to function as a priest under canon law, said Nick Cafardi, a Pittsburgh attorney and expert on canon law. Timlin had to write a letter to Vatican officials to allow him to continue to minister. He did on Jan. 20, 1989.
In the letter, Timlin, who publicly railed against abortion for years and once called it “the slaughter of the innocents,” wrote to the Vatican and mentioned Skotek was “irregular” — a church designation — because of the abortion. He strongly advocated for Skotek’s reinstatement because the priest “undoubtedly acted out of panic and fear,” sincerely repented and, based on his “intense sorrow and sincere contrition,” would never again help anyone get an abortion.
The Vatican apparently granted the request because Skotek was reassigned to St. Aloysius, then St. Mary Ascension in Mocanaqua, where he served until Timlin removed him from active ministry in June 2002.
“They did not act on this guy until (canon) law forced them to,” Cafardi said.
Skotek wasn’t the only priest to impregnate a child.
In August 1988, a woman wrote to Timlin to say the Rev. Robert J. Brague, in his late 40s at the time, impregnated her 17-year-old sister, who gave birth to a boy in April 1989. Timlin already knew about it because he received anonymous letters in March and June 1988 reporting the relationship, according to the grand jury report.
Two days after the woman’s sister wrote, Timlin removed Brague from active ministry, but the grand jury report does not say he reported Brague to the state.
Instead, the diocese tried to get Brague assigned in December 1988 to the Archdiocese of New York, whose leader, Archbishop John O’Connor, immediately preceded Timlin as bishop of Scranton.
Brague later wound up as a church official in Naples, Florida, an assignment that Timlin “wholeheartedly approved,” according to the grand jury. Brague died in 1997.
Less than three weeks after sending Skotek to Maryland for evaluation, Timlin received a letter dated Nov. 4, 1986, from a man who said the Rev. Francis G. Kulig molested his son from 1979, when the boy was 12, until 1985. Timlin transferred Kulig to Nativity Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Tunkhannock from St. John the Evangelist Church in Wilkes-Barre, where he served as assistant pastor from September 1979 to October 1985.
After Kulig admitted the relationship, Timlin sent him for treatment. The grand jury shows no evidence Timlin reported it to state authorities.
Timlin then reassigned Kulig as chaplain to places with no children, the Mercy Center Convent in Dallas, and, in 2001, to Holy Family Residence in Scranton, a nursing home. He only revoked Kulig’s ability to minister in July 2002.
Policy often ignored
In 1993, Timlin established the diocesan Independent Review Board made up of nonpriests to review allegations of sexual misconduct and developed a policy to systematically address allegations of child sexual abuse.
His lawyers say the case of a priest, the Rev. Robert N. Caparelli, spurred the move. Caparelli, while he had AIDS, molested boys, and later pleaded guilty and went to jail, where he died in December 1994.
The new policy required investigation of every credible abuse allegation, temporary removal from ministry and reporting “to the appropriate child protective agencies.” The policy, Timlin’s lawyers wrote, put the diocese “in the vanguard” of addressing abuse nine years before the bishops’ conference developed guidelines.
The required reporting apparently did not apply to much older abuse cases that came up after the policy’s adoption, but Timlin began removing from ministry some accused priests after the policy took effect, though he sometimes wavered.
The diocese received a report in January 1967 that the Rev. P. Lawrence Homer locked a 14-year-old girl in his office at St. Boniface Church in Williamsport and engaged in a sexual conversation with her. Another 14-year-old girl reported he unbuttoned her blouse and french kissed her. The next month, he was transferred to Queen of Peace Church in Hawley.
In January 1988, a woman told the diocese Homer sexually molested her in 1964, when she was 14 years old and he was assigned to St. John the Baptist Church in Scranton.
After the review board began, Timlin reassigned Homer to the Marian Convent in Scranton for a year, then as a resident priest at Our Lady Queen of Peace rectory in Brodheadsville. He only removed Homer from ministry in July 2002. Homer died in 2015.
In 1970, diocese officials interviewed four boys, also at St. Boniface Church, who reported the Rev. Joseph F. Meighan undressed and fondled them. He was ordered to undergo treatment, but was reassigned to other churches over the next 20 years.
In 1990, a mother saw Meighan start to undress her 17-year-old son in St. Therese’s Church rectory in Kingston Twp.
The diocese sent him for treatment again. Timlin reassigned him first to Holy Family Residence in Scranton, then to the Mercy Center Convent in Dallas. Timlin only removed him from ministry in July 2002.
The grand jury report says nothing about the diocese reporting Meighan to authorities.
On Jan. 11, 1994, a woman wrote to Timlin to report that the Rev. Gerald J. Burns sexually molested her husband when he was an altar boy at St. John’s Church in Honesdale in the 1950s. Burns served as assistant pastor there between September 1950 and June 1952.
Timlin confronted Burns, who denied any wrongdoing, but the bishop advised him to retire, which Burns did Jan. 24, 1994. He died in 1999. The grand jury report does not say the case was reported to authorities.
On Jan. 5, 1995, a lawyer contacted the diocese and claimed he represented a man that the Rev. Robert J. Gibson sexually abused in 1975, when the man was 14. Four days later, Gibson resigned as pastor of St. Bernadette in Canadensis and entered treatment.
In August 1995, the hospital recommended Gibson live at a parish and continue therapy, but Timlin sent him back to treatment in the spring of 1997, after a mother accused Gibson of “grooming” her son. Timlin revoked his ability to act as a priest in February 1998, the same month the diocese learned Gibson molested his nephew.
The grand jury notes no report to an outside agency until after an April 2002 letter from an adult man accusing Gibson of molesting him and showing him pornography when he was a minor.
Timlin saw an indication of Albert M. Liberatore Jr.’s behavioral problems as early as November 1996, when Liberatore had the diocese job of recruiting new priests and taught prospective priests at St. Pius X Seminary in Dalton.
In a memo, Bambera, then a priest, told Timlin that Liberatore took a young adult male to New York to drink alcohol because the male was not old enough to drink in Pennsylvania. They spent the night in New York, Bambera reported.
“Confidential — no action taken,” Timlin wrote on Bambera’s memo.
In February 1997, 20 young men from Bishop Hoban High School in Wilkes-Barre touring St. Pius X saw Liberatore lying on a bed getting a back rub from a seminarian.
“Strictly confidential, spoke to Father Liberatore about this. Matter was resolved,” Timlin wrote in a March 1997 note in Liberatore’s file.
After Liberatore admitted he took a college-age seminarian into his bedroom at a Catholic seminary in Belgium in December 2002, Timlin sent him for an evaluation.
None of the incidents appear reportable because they involved adults, but on Jan. 3, 2004, after Martino took over as bishop, the diocese received a complaint that Liberatore sexually abused two young men.
The diocese reported him to law enforcement and he was charged with crimes, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years of probation. The diocese later settled a federal lawsuit by a victim for $3 million.
Reports by successors
Martino, who succeeded Timlin in July 2003, ordered his own review of past clergy sexual abuse and handled differently at least one case that Timlin first oversaw.
Martino removed the Rev. Mark Rossetti from ministry, who Timlin had transferred to the Diocese of New York two years after receiving a report that Rossetti abused a 13-year-old boy. Prosecutors learned of the abuse, but the boy’s family decided against pressing criminal charges.
Between March and June 2006, Martino learned an active priest, the Rev. J. Peter Crynes had sex with at least five females in the 1970s, and impregnated one who was a child. As soon as the first report came in, the diocese reported it to the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office. He was never charged.
In May 2006, the diocese received a report that a priest, the Rev. Thomas P. Shoback, sexually assaulted an 11-year-old altar boy. The diocese reported the abuse immediately to the Tioga County district attorney’s office, which did not press charges.
Timlin received a report in June 2002, about Shoback’s brother and fellow priest, the Rev. Edward J. Shoback. A man in his 30s claimed Edward Shoback sexually molested him in the 1970s. The man said he did not want “to pursue the matter” because he liked Shoback, who denied it happened.
Timlin let Shoback remain in ministry, but Martino removed him in July 2004.
Bambera, who succeeded Martino in April 2010, ordered another review of past allegations. He also created a program, now headed by a former state trooper, to monitor priests previously removed from ministry because of abuse.
When police charged the Rev. Philip A. Altavilla in April 2014 with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, the diocese immediately removed him from ministry. The charges were dismissed because the statute of limitations expired.
In February 2011, the Diocese of Kansas City reported a Diocese of Scranton priest, Mark Honhart, abused a fourth-grade boy in the mid-1980s, in the Kansas City diocese. Bambera immediately removed him from ministry and reported him to local law enforcement. The grand jury report does not say if he was charged.
In March 2012, a man who only gave his name as Jeff emailed the diocese to report a priest, the Rev. Russell E. Motsay, sexually abused him. The diocese turned the email over to the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office. Motsay resigned the next month as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Carbondale. He was not reassigned after that, according to the grand jury report, and was removed from ministry in September 2015. Other victims came forward, too, but the statute of limitations for charging Motsay had expired.
In 2016, as the grand jury’s work began, Bambera sent a list of all past cases to district attorneys in all 11 counties of the diocese.
Last week, Bambera announced the diocesan Independent Review Board would be assessing how Timlin handled the abuse. A report recommending what Timlin’s future role with the diocese should be is expected by Friday; Bambera said he would make the report public.
Attempts to reach Timlin and Martino were unsuccessful.
TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER, staff writer, contributed to this report.
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Bishop Emeritus James C. Timlin may have known about sexual abuse by one Diocese of Scranton priest as early as Thanksgiving in 1967, according to a statewide grand jury report on priest sexual abuse of children.
The grand jury highlighted the case of the Rev. Robert N. Caparelli in its 1,356-page report, released Aug. 14. Years later, even Timlin, accused of covering up much abuse, portrayed Caparelli as a true pedophile.
Around Thanksgiving 1967, then Bishop J. Carroll McCormick met to discuss Caparelli with the Rev. Mark Mecca, the pastor of Most Precious Blood Church in Hazleton where Caparelli was his assistant. Timlin attended the meeting, Mecca wrote in a letter the following August. At the time, Timlin served as McCormick’s secretary.
Mecca warned McCormick about his concerns about Caparelli during that meeting, Mecca reminded McCormick in an Aug. 17, 1968, letter included in the grand jury report. The report details decades of children being sexually abused by 301 priests in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses, including Scranton.
Mecca wrote that letter three days after a Hazleton police officer, also a church member, wrote to McCormick and accused Caparelli of molesting two altar boys, 11- and 12-year-old brothers. The unnamed officer, who learned of the abuse from the boys’ mother, called Caparelli’s behavior “demoralizing” and “not natural for any human.”
Mecca confirmed the officer’s account, but said “there is so much that is missing, and all very, very serious.”
He tried to handle Caparelli himself, he wrote, hoping to relieve McCormick “of at least one of the many problems,” but said “this problem is too big for me” and “has grown into something that is unbelievable.”
Another parishioner wrote that some parishioners discouraged others from going to police “to avert scandal.”
Confronted, Caparelli “admitted acting too freely with two altar boys,” but insisted he did not do anything immoral and saw a doctor who told him he was not a homosexual, McCormick wrote in a secret Sept. 2, 1968, note.
McCormick sent Caparelli on a retreat. By October, the diocese concluded “the mother, a nurse, may have exaggerated” the abuse, according to the grand jury. McCormick transferred Caparelli to St. Mary’s Church in Old Forge where he abused other boys, according to the grand jury.
In September 1974, McCormick transferred Caparelli from St. Mary’s to the Mercy Center in Dallas, a convent, where he spent the next seven years. By then, Timlin was diocese chancellor, a top aide to McCormick.
When McCormick reassigned Caparelli to St. Vincent de Paul Church in Milford in June 1981, Timlin was auxiliary bishop, second in command. After Timlin issued a July 23, 1985, memo urging diocese staff to report abuse to state authorities, the diocese never reported Caparelli’s earlier abuse.
During his Milford tenure, Caparelli contracted the AIDS virus and molested several boys, which led to his arrest, imprisonment and December 1994 death behind bars. Timlin asked the sentencing judge to keep Caparelli out of prison so he could “continue his therapy” and “receive the medical care he very much needs.”
The diocese fought lawsuits filed by Caparelli victims for several years, but eventually settled for undisclosed amounts.
The publicity surrounding Caparelli’s case spurred Timlin to overhaul diocese policy on dealing with priestly sexual abuse, his lawyers wrote in a response to the grand jury report.