Ruling Split Decision for Diocese
Judge Dismisses Some Counts in Abuse Suit but Allows Other Counts to Remain
Wilkes Barre Times Leader (Pennsylvania)
March 20, 2007
SCRANTON A man who was sexually abused by a priest can seek punitive and other compensatory damages against the Diocese of Scranton, but he cannot recover under several other sections of a lawsuit he filed, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo on Monday dismissed several counts of a lawsuit filed against the diocese and former priest Albert Liberatore. But he rejected a diocese request to dismiss the suit in its entirety, allowing several key counts to remain that will keep the case in federal court.
The victim, identified only as John Doe, filed suit in 2004, alleging former Bishop James Timlin and several other Catholic Church officials were negligent for failing to protect him from Liberatore.
Liberatore was charged in May 2004 with indecent assault and corruption of a minor in connection with the repeated abuse of the boy over a several-year period. The former priest pleaded guilty in 2005 in Luzerne County Court and was sentenced to five years probation. He also pleaded guilty to sodomy and other sexual assault charges in connection with abuse of the boy that occurred in New York City.
In his ruling, Caputo said the victim had presented sufficient evidence to support his claim that Timlin and other church officials were negligent because they failed to heed clear signs that Liberatore was "grooming" the boy for a homosexual relationship.
Caputo noted numerous people had advised Timlin and others of Liberatore's suspicious behavior with the boy, which included allowing him to sleep over in Liberatore's room, buying him gifts and taking him on overnight trips.
Caputo further ruled the victim could seek punitive damages against the diocese, saying there was sufficient evidence to support the claim the diocese had acted recklessly.
"A reasonable jury could conclude that a minor sleeping in a priest's bedroom and a priest's taking a minor alone on overnight trips are facts which create a high degree of risk of physical harm to the minor," Caputo said.
But Caputo sided with the diocese regarding claims that officials had engaged in criminal conduct by "aiding and abetting" Liberatore's abuse of the boy.
Caputo noted that under federal law, a defendant must know the offense was being committed and must act "with intent to facilitate" it in order to be held criminally liable. In this case, Caputo said it is clear the victim has reached that standard in regards to claims against Liberatore, but not against the diocesan defendants.
While there is evidence that the diocesan defendants "may have avoided learning" of Liberatore's offenses, Caputo said, there is no evidence "even remotely suggesting" they shared his intent to commit the sexual offenses.
The judge also granted a request by the diocese to dismiss a count of the suit that alleged negligent hiring. While there was evidence of negligent supervision of Liberatore, there was no clear evidence suggesting Liberatore "would become a child sex predator" when he was hired, the judge said.
Caputo also dismissed an aiding and abetting claim filed against Brother Antonio F. Antonucci, an individual defendant who was alleged to have dissuaded the victim and his mother from reporting allegations of abuse to police. Caputo noted that even if allegations against Antonucci were true, they did not rise to the level of aiding Liberatore because the victim did not have to heed Antonucci's advice.
Daniel Brier of Scranton, attorney for the victim, declined to comment on the ruling Monday. Several attorneys representing the diocese did not immediately respond to an e-mail message Monday evening.
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