Advocate Group for Abuse Victims Raps Choice

By Mark Guydish
February 24, 2010

SCRANTON (PA) -- News that Monsignor Joseph Bambera would rise to the post of bishop was scarcely three hours old a press conference in Scranton was still 25 minutes away when a group advocating for victims of priest sex abuse blasted the appointment.

"Bambera is a poor choice and his promotion worries and insults us," wrote David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. "Under oath, Bambera admitted that barely a decade ago, he refused to report a credibly accused predator priest to police, in violation of his diocese's own child sex abuse policy.

"He also admitted relying on the word of an accused priest without even questioning that cleric's alleged victim," the e-mailed statement from Clohessy continued. "This decision raises a troubling question: Is it that hard for the Vatican to find good, smart priests who have not concealed horrific crimes against kids?"

The e-mail included a Nov. 8, 2007, Times Leader article by staff writer Terrie Morgan-Besecker about a lawsuit filed against the diocese by an alleged victim of the Rev. Albert Liberatore, criminally charged with molesting an altar boy. The civil suit went to trial but ended after two days of testimony thanks to a $3 million settlement, which the diocese said came from insurance funds and coverage. Clohessy was one of the people who testified in those two days.

Bambera, who served as Vicar of Priests from 1995 to 1997, took the stand on the opening day of the trial and endured two hours of questioning. Morgan-Besecker reported that Bambera acknowledged he helped investigate an allegation of misconduct by another priest, and conceded that a section of the diocesan 1993 policy regarding sexual misconduct was not followed in that case.

Bambera also testified that, after hearing of an alcohol-fueled argument at St. Pius X Seminary between Liberatore and an employee there described by some observers as a "lover's spat" he had not questioned the employee, relying instead on reassurances from Liberatore.

Diocesan spokesman Bill Genello issued the following response to SNAP's statement:

"It is unfortunate that these unfair accusations have been made against Bishop-elect Bambera. In 1997, when he was serving as Vicar for Priests, Bishop-elect Bambera followed all the protocols that were in place at the time to deal with incidents of this nature. He properly reported all of the evidence he had to Bishop (James) Timlin, who ultimately had the responsibility to decide what, if any, action would be taken. Court records will verify this. Bishop-elect Bambera did everything that was within his authority at that time."

The diocese has often contended that it consistently followed the 1993 policy, which Timlin has said he and others believed at the time to be the right course of action. Following the national sex scandal that began in Boston in 2002 and spread rapidly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a new, more stringent policy the diocese insists it has followed since.

Bambera is no stranger to controversy.

In 2006 when Monsignor J. Peter Crynes resigned as pastor at St. Therese's Church in Shavertown amid allegations of sexual misconduct that had occurred years earlier, it was Bambera, in his role as Episcopal Vicar for the central pastoral region, who spoke at each Mass one weekend to explain the abrupt departure of the popular Crynes.

And in 2008 it fell to Bambera, again as vicar for the central region, to defend Bishop Martino's decision to close Sacred Heart Church in Wilkes-Barre. A group lead by Anthony and Noreen Foti are fighting that decision, and they wrote letters to Martino and the church pastor, Monsignor John Sempa, arguing against it. Bambera responded at one point, contending the estimated cost of repairing the church was too steep and "would reflect an irresponsible use of funds."



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