|Priest-Abuse Jury Selected
Ex-Altar Boy Molested by Clergyman Filed Negligence Suit against Diocese, Priest
By Terrie Morgan-Besecker
November 6, 2007
SCRANTON – A federal judge has granted a request to hold a separate trial to determine punitive damages should a former altar boy who was molested by a priest prevail in his claim of negligence against the priest and the Diocese of Scranton.
The ruling, issued Friday by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo, was one of several pre-trial matters the judge resolved regarding what evidence will be permitted at the civil trial that pits the now adult victim, identified as John Doe in court documents, against the Rev. Albert Liberatore and the diocese.
A jury of four men and four women were chosen after day-long questioning Monday. Opening statements are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. today. The trial is expected to last 10 to 14 days.
Caputo also granted motions that will limit the testimony of experts for the plaintiff and the diocese. But he held off ruling on several other issues, including a dispute over whether Doe can present evidence of alleged past sexual misconduct by Liberatore and whether the diocese can present evidence regarding Doe's sexual behavior and predisposition.
Caputo said he will rule on those issues as they come up during the trial.
Doe filed suit in 2004 against Liberatore, former Bishop James Timlin and several other church officials, alleging their inaction allowed Liberatore to molest him from age 14 to 17. Liberatore pleaded guilty in Luzerne County Court in 2004 to sexually abusing the boy and was sentenced to five years probation. He has since been removed from the priesthood.
The diocese had concurred with a motion filed by Daniel Brier and Donna Walsh, Doe's attorneys, which sought to separate the trial into two phases.
In the first phase, jurors will decide whether the diocese is liable for Liberatore's actions and if officials acted with reckless disregard. If Doe prevails on both issues, the second phase would be held to determine the amount of punitive damages against all defendants.
The ruling is important for Doe because it will allow his attorneys to present evidence of the diocese's financial status – information that would not have been permitted had the issue of liability and punitive damages been tried together.
Caputo also granted Brier and Walsh's motion that sought to preclude Dr. Henry Doyle, an expert for the diocese, from testifying that psychological problems Doe suffers are due to Liberatore's behavior, as well as "unrelated personal and family issues."
Joseph O'Brien, attorney for the diocese, also was successful in limiting the testimony of one of Doe's experts, Thomas Doyle.
Brier and Walsh had sought to have Thomas Doyle testify regarding several issues related to the past history of the Catholic Church in responding to allegations of sexual abuse, including allegations the church, in general, had adopted a position of "secrecy and silence" with respect to clergy sexual abuse. Caputo ruled that issue was irrelevant to the Doe trial.
Caputo also precluded Thomas Doyle from testifying about several other issues, including his opinion that church officials violated canon law by failing to report the abuse and that Timlin failed to provide any meaningful pastoral care to Doe after he became aware of the sexual abuse.
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