Civil Suit Filed against the Rev. Liberatore

By Chris Birk
The Citizens Voice [Scranton PA]
November 9, 2004

A Scranton priest facing criminal charges of child molestation is now facing the accusations in a civil case filed in federal court.

The Rev. Albert M. Liberatore, charged in New York and Pennsylvania with abusing a former altar boy, was named in a civil complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court on behalf of his alleged victim, now a 19-year-old University of Scranton student.

The complaint also charges a host of diocesan-related entities with failing to protect the victim and having prior knowledge of the Rev. Liberatore's alleged behavior.

Those also named in the suit are the Diocese of Scranton, the Most. Rev. James C. Timlin, former bishop, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Duryea, the Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz, former diocesan vicar of priests, and Brother Antonio F. Antonucci, who worked at Sacred Heart.

Citing a "longstanding practice of the diocese," spokeswoman Maria Orzel declined to comment on the lawsuit. She said she had yet to see a copy.

All requests for diocesan interviews are funneled through Orzel in the communications office.

Currently on diocesan suspension, the Rev. Liberatore is awaiting trial in Luzerne County Court, charged last spring with indecent assault, corruption of minors, endangering the welfare of children and furnishing alcohol to minors.

In mid-July, he was arraigned in New York City on three felony sexual abuse charges - first degree sodomy and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse - stemming from an alleged trip to the city with the student.

The incident allegedly occurred two years after the diocese "received and declined to investigate" the complaints concerning the Rev. Liberatore's inappropriate behavior with (the victim), according to the lawsuit.

All of the charges come from a University of Scranton student, identified only as John Doe, who was an altar boy when he met the Rev. Liberatore, then a parish priest at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.

Scranton attorney Larry Moran, the Rev. Liberatore's counsel, said he had yet to see the filing.

"I can tell you that Father Liberatore is being vigorously defended in a variety of court actions, and he'll continue to be vigorously defended because he's an innocent man," Moran said.

In the civil suit filed Friday, the victim's attorneys outline a three-year timeline of alleged abuse that began when he was 14. The suit alleges that the Rev. Liberatore purchased extravagant meals and gifts for the boy, who later worked at the church as a sacristan.

The suit also alleges that the Rev. Liberatore plied the boy with alcohol and sexually explicit material, then arranged his work hours to include staying overnight at the Sacred Heart rectory.

From about 2000 to 2002, the boy slept in the Rev. Liberatore's bed as often as twice a week, according to the complaint. On one occasion, the boy awoke to find the priest's hand on his genital area, according to the complaint.

The boy claims to have been sexually abused during a trip to Europe with the Rev. Liberatore in summer 2000, as well in a University of Scranton campus office in May 2002 and in a New York City hotel room shortly after.

In all, the priest is named in four of the complaint's eight counts: assault and battery, violating the Child Abuse Victims' Rights Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty.

But the suit also levies charges against the Diocese of Scranton, its former spiritual head and a few other diocesan workers for allegedly failing to take steps, such as bringing the priest before the diocesan review board, in accord with church policy.

The suit claims that Bishop Timlin had received complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct regarding the Rev. Liberatore before he went to Sacred Heart in July 1997, and that the bishop learned of the Sacred Heart sleeping arrangements but failed to fully investigate or notify the boy's parents.

The bishop, according to the complaint, urged the Rev. Liberatore and other priests who learned of the relationship to "put the issues behind them."

The others, Brother Antonio and the Rev. Kopacz, were named in counts ranging from negligence to inflicting emotional distress.


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