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  Jackpot Priest in D.A.'s Perv Report

By Dana DiFilippo
Philadelphia Daily News
September 28, 2005

When the Rev. Frank Giliberti won more than $1 million at an Atlantic City casino 17 years ago, the portly priest promised to give it all away.

He funded a pricey remodel of his Wynnefield church, set up a scholarship fund for poor high-schoolers and spread the wealth to other needy causes.

Now, it seems, he was just doing penance.

The retired cleric was one of 63 priests blasted in a report the district attorney released last week detailing decades of sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Giliberti, now 68 and living in a Darby nursing home for retired priests, is accused of running a so-called anti-masturbation "boot camp" at his Jersey shore house where he walked in on boys as they masturbated. He also allegedly abused at least two boys while he was still a seminarian and another two who were his students at Cardinal O'Hara High School, in Springfield, Delaware County.

The alleged abuse occurred 10 to 20 years before Giliberti pocketed the $1,077,777.77 slot jackpot at Trump Castle Hotel & Casino in November 1988.

A worker at the nursing home where Giliberti now lives declined to transfer a reporter's call and directed questions to the archdiocese.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said: "We're just not going to be able to comment on specific cases."

The news of the priest's alleged penchant for pedophilia astonished Brother Tim Ahern, who has known Giliberti for about 30 years.

"It came as a total shock to us when his name appeared in the report," Ahern said. "I remember him very nicely, as this very outgoing, bombastic guy with this raspy voice from smoking. He was a go-getter, very popular. I knew he had retired, but I'd heard he had bad arthritis in his legs, and I just assumed he retired for disability reasons."

Ahern, president of West Catholic High School, administers the scholarship fund Giliberti set up there with a $100,000 gift presumably from his casino winnings.

Now Ahern has the awkward task of seeking Giliberti's approval of a name change for the Giliberti Fund. Giliberti served as chaplain at West Catholic from 1978 to 1987.

"I personally believe it's inappropriate to award a scholarship in the name of someone facing credible charges of such abuse," Ahern said.

Still, Giliberti drew a devout defense from one parishioner at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, in Media, Delaware County, where he served 12 years until his retirement and in whose rectory he resided when the alleged abuse occurred.

"I know he did not keep any of the [jackpot] money - he gave it all to charitable causes," said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld. "He was very well-liked here."

Parishioners at St. Barbara's Church in Wynnefield, where Giliberti worked when he became a millionaire, remember him with gratitude, the church secretary agreed.

"Our church is quite beautiful because of him," Sharon Albergotti said, explaining that Giliberti paid for the church's remodeling about 15 years ago.

Coincidentally, another of the 63 priests accused in the report logged time at St. Barbara's - the Rev. Matthew Kornacki, who was sentenced to prison and fined last year for possessing and viewing child pornography.

The charges against Giliberti, which surfaced in 2002, date back to the late 1960s and 1970s.

A 15-year-old boy in Giliberti's religion class at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Delaware County reported that Giliberti fondled him, gave him beer, encouraged him to masturbate and to expose himself to his sister and offered to have sex with him, according to the report. The boy later was so ashamed that he set his penis on fire with lighter fluid.

Another allegation involved a 17-year-old O'Hara student who went to Giliberti for guidance as he struggled with his sexuality. The boy claimed Giliberti offered to introduce him to some gay men and also encouraged him to masturbate, according to the report.

Giliberti also is accused of molesting two teenage boys in the late 1960s.

Despite the accusations, Giliberti, ordained in 1970, was allowed to remain as pastor of Nativity BVM in Media until he retired in December 2003. He agreed in October 2004 to a supervised life of prayer and penance after the Church deemed charges against him credible.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham couldn't be reached for comment.

Contact: difilid@phillynews.com

 
 

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