Rectory Employees Testify Duryea Priest's Relationship with Teen Boy Was 'Not Right'

By Erin L. Nissley
Citizens Voice
November 7, 2007

Ann Marie Zongilla, the housekeeper at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church's rectory in Duryea, walked up to the attic one day in 2001 and discovered something she found shocking.

Albert M. Liberatore Jr., then-pastor at Sacred Heart, was "rolling around on the floor" with a teenage boy who had been spending a lot of time at the rectory, she said.

At one point, she added, the teen was hitting the priest's buttocks with a plastic sword.

The incident served to strengthen her opinion there was something "not right" about the priest's relationship with the teen, an opinion that was shared by other employees at the rectory.

Zongilla was one of several people to take the stand Tuesday in the federal sex abuse civil trial brought by a man referred to as "John Doe" in court filings. The suit claims Liberatore sexually abused the victim from 1999 to 2002, beginning when the boy was 14.

The suit also names the diocese, Sacred Heart, retired Bishop James C. Timlin, the Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz, the diocesan vicar of priests when the abuse occurred, and Brother Antonio F. Antonucci, an employee at Sacred Heart, for allegedly failing to heed warnings about the abuse and for not removing Liberatore.

Liberatore, now 42, pleaded guilty in 2005 in Luzerne County and New York to sexually abusing the victim and was sentenced to 10 years probation and defrocked.

Zongilla and Sacred Heart rectory secretary Helen Negvesky testified Tuesday they reported their concerns about Liberatore's relationship with the teen to the Rev. Edward Williams, who also worked at Sacred Heart in the 1990s and early 2000s, and to Monsignor John Bendik, who is based in Pittston.

Negvesky said, under direct questioning by the victim's attorney, Daniel T. Brier, Liberatore would look at the victim "the way my husband and I would look at each other before we were married."

Williams, who also took the stand Tuesday, said he also noticed the teen at the rectory often and became concerned about the relationship Liberatore had with the teen. He spoke to Bendik because of a threat Liberatore made when Williams said he was going to speak to Timlin about those concerns.

"He said if I went to Bishop Timlin with anything, he would destroy me," Williams said.

All three staffers said Tuesday they were not certain Liberatore was sexually abusing the teen.

"I didn't say anything about a sexual relationship," Zongilla said. "I didn't see anything like that. I had no proof."

Plaintiff's attorney Donna Walsh asked Bendik several times whether any of the three Sacred Heart staffers said anything about their concerns about an "inappropriate sexual relationship" between Liberatore and the boy.

Each time, Bendik balked.

"Their concern was that a young fellow was spending an awful lot of time with Father Liberatore," he said.

Later, he said, "My concern was ... it could become that. But at the time, there was no allegation of sexual abuse."

Although Bendik spoke to Kopacz about the concerns raised by the Sacred Heart staffers, all four who took the stand Tuesday said they never heard anything from diocese leaders about the matter.



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