DA Says the Diocese Handled It Right

By Chris Birk
Clarion-Ledger [Mississippi]
May 19, 2004

The Diocese of Scranton began investigating second-hand accusations of sexual misconduct by the Rev. Albert M. Liberatore four months before local authorities were alerted, officials said on Tuesday.

Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola said the delay was justified -- it wasn't until earlier this month that the alleged victim, now 19, came forward with a written statement.

"Initially, they still took the steps necessary to get to the bottom of it," Mr. Jarbola said of the diocese. "They turned it over to us in a timely fashion, which led to the arrest (Monday) night."

The authorities would have been notified at the outset if the claims had come directly from the alleged victim, diocese spokeswoman Maria Orzel said.

"This case was much more complicated," she said. "Verifiable information was collected and was immediately presented to local law enforcement authorities."

The Rev. Liberatore, 40, was arraigned on misdemeanor charges of indecent assault and corrupting a minor. The diocesan priest and University of Scranton religion professor has denied charges he abused a 17-year-old boy from May to June 2002.

The diocese first received unsubstantiated reports of abuse in January and conducted its own preliminary investigation, said Mrs. Orzel, in accordance with U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops policy.

The diocese's probe was led by a former FBI agent working as a private investigator. The report was handed to authorities on Friday, and county officials interviewed the alleged victim on Monday.

The diocese investigates every claim of abuse it receives, Mrs. Orzel said.

In June 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a charter for dealing with cases of sexual abuse involving minors, which mandated that dioceses create written sexual abuse policies; establish review boards; and conduct prompt and objective investigations into any claim.

If sufficient evidence pointing toward abuse arises, the diocese is then to notify the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican office that now handles sex abuse claims against priests and public authorities.

"There has to be a deliberation or a consideration or an investigation to determine whether or not it's plausible," said the Rev. Arthur Espelage, O.F.M., executive coordinator of the Canon Law Society of America. "It's an executive administrative process rather than a judicial process. It's more akin to a police investigation into the possibility of the crime."

An audit conducted last summer by the conference's Office of Child and Youth Protection determined the Scranton diocese, along with 174 others nationwide, was in compliance with the charter.

The Diocese of Scranton has had a clerical sexual misconduct policy in place since 1993.


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