Sides Prep for Ex-Priest's Sex-Abuse Civil Trial

By Stacy Brown
October 25, 2007

New documents filed this week in a federal sex abuse civil trial involving a former priest and the Diocese of Scranton indicate both sides are preparing stinging allegations.

While a memo filed Monday by the diocese alleges the young victim abuses illegal drugs and alcohol, the victim counters that former priest, Albert M. Liberatore Jr., plied him with alcohol and that the church promoted Mr. Liberatore to a higher position despite knowledge of a history of abuse.

Mr. Liberatore, 42, pleaded guilty in 2005 in Luzerne County and New York to sexually abusing the young male victim 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 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 claims the diocese and clergymen didn't heed warnings from several sources that Mr. Liberatore was abusing the boy, identified as John Doe in the suit. While a pretrial conference is set for today, the trial is scheduled for Nov. 5 and is expected to last between two and four weeks.

"Mr. Liberatore used his position as a Catholic priest to gain the trust of the victim and his family and proceeded to abuse that trust by sexually exploiting and assaulting him," the plaintiff's attorneys charged in documents filed this week.

The former priest plied the young victim with alcohol, exposed him to sexually explicit material and conversation, and touched him in a sexually inappropriate manner, according to the pretrial memo.

"Mr. Liberatore convinced (the victim's) mother to allow him to spend the night in the rectory so that he would be available to prepare the church for early Masses," the attorneys allege.

"During the sleepovers, Mr. Liberatore required the victim to sleep with him in his bed. He directed the victim not to tell his mother or anyone else about the sleeping arrangements."

In a pretrial memorandum by the defendants, diocesan attorney Joseph A. O'Brien wrote that his clients were not negligent with respect to the supervision and retention of (the victim) and that they did not breach any fiduciary duties owed him.

The defendants further allege that the victim "is not suffering from any mental disorder and that any limitation on his social, academic or vocational functioning is due to his voluntary, excessive and chronic use of alcohol and illegal drugs."

Mr. Liberatore's attorney, Lawrence J. Moran, wrote only that his client would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if called to testify.

Attempts to reach the attorneys in the case Wednesday were not successful.

While a jury will be asked to consider monetary damages — including an award for pain and suffering, emotional distress and mental anguish — the defendants said they will call a forensic economist who will testify that any economic loss sustained by the victim was between $0 and $78,000.

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