Mixed Ruling Sends Diocese Sexual Abuse Case to Trial

By Dave Janoski
The Times-Tribune [Scranton PA]
March 20, 2007

A federal judge has dismissed some, but not all, of the counts in a suit against the Diocese of Scranton and three clergymen stemming from the sexual abuse of a teenage boy by a former diocesan priest.

A trial is scheduled for June.

The former priest, Albert M. Liberatore Jr., 42, pleaded guilty in 2005 in Luzerne County and New York to sexually abusing the boy from 1999 to 2002, beginning when the boy was 14. Mr. Liberatore, who was pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Duryea when the abuse occurred, was sentenced to 10 years probation and subsequently defrocked.

The victim sued Mr. Liberatore, the diocese, Sacred Heart, retired Bishop James C. Timlin, the Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz, who was the diocesan vicar of priests when the abuse occurred, and Brother Antonio F. Antonucci. The suit claimed the diocese and the clergymen didn't heed warnings from several sources that Mr. Liberatore was abusing the boy, identified as John Doe in the suit.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo issued a mixed ruling on motions seeking dismissal of the counts against the three clergymen, the diocese and Sacred Heart Church.

He ruled the case would go forward on some charges, including that the diocese and its officials were negligent in their supervision of Mr. Liberatore. Judge Caputo also rejected a defense motion to bar the plaintiff from seeking punitive damages.

At least 25 diocesan priests have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors since 1950, according to diocesan reports.

From 1995 through June, the diocese spent more than $835,000 to settle four molestation suits, the diocese said.

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