Suit against Scranton Diocese Alleges Abuse, Cover-up by Repeat-offender Priest
By Patrick Kernan
July 7, 2020
|The Rev. Robert Caparelli is seen in an image from the 1976 Bishop O’Reilly High School Yearbook, which was previously published in the Times Leader in a 2006 story about the late priest’s history of sexual abuse. A man who claims he was abused by Caparelli in the 1970s is suing the Diocese of Scranton, claiming officials conspired to cover up evidence in order to protect Caparelli.|
WILKES-BARRE — A Berks County man filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Scranton on Tuesday, claiming the diocese conspired to cover up evidence of abuse in order to protect the alleged abuser.
The Times Leader does not identify the victims of sexual abuse, but the suit was filed through the man’s attorney, Daniel F. Monahan. According to the suit, the man was abused by the late Rev. Robert Caparelli while the plaintiff was between the ages of 10 and 13.
Caparelli was a priest at various churches throughout the Diocese for decades, until he was arrested in the early 1990s, dying while serving prison time in 1994. The plaintiff in this case claims he was abused by Caparelli during his time at Sacred Heart Church, now the site of Holy Family Parish, in Luzerne Borough.
According to the suit, Caparelli’s abuse of the plaintiff began roughly around 1974, while he was an altar server at the church and Caparelli worked as a priest. The suit says Caparelli abused the plaintiff on numerous occasions, telling the boy that “his actions were acceptable because he liked him and he was ‘special.’”
The suit says the abuse occurred in the sacristy of the church.
The suit claims the Diocese of Scranton, including its former leaders J. Carroll McCormick and Bishop John O’Connor “were familiar with Caparelli’s sexual interest in male children as early as Aug. 14, 1968, and continued to be aware through direct confirmation of that sexual interest thereafter.”
The suit claims that diocesan officials were on notice of Caparelli’s sexual interest before his assignment to Sacred Heart, claiming that they knew he “would use his position as a priest to groom and thereafter seek sexual gratification from his physical contact with children within the parish.”
The suit goes on to mention the state grand jury investigation that made headlines in 2018, which claimed that at least 59 priests within the diocese were child predators. The suit quotes portions of the Grand Jury report, which indicated that diocesan leaders made confidential arrangements to keep the reports quiet or to discourage them from speaking to police.
The suit says, based on the grand jury report, that the diocese was made aware of Caparelli’s abuse by a Hazleton police officer in 1968, telling them that Caparelli had abused two male altar servers, aged 11 and 12, “demoralizing them in a manner that is not natural for any human that has all his proper faculties.”
It was another 23 years before Caparelli was arrested in 1991.
The suit accuses the Diocese of fraudulently concealing information and continuing to assign Caparelli to positions in which he could work with children in spite of having been made aware of his predatory behavior as early as 1968.
According to previous Times Leader reporting and the grand jury report, Caparelli’s assignments between 1964 and 1991 included Queen of Peace, Hawley; St. Francis, Nanticoke; Most Precious Blood, Hazleton; St. Mary, Old Forge; Mercy Center, Dallas; St. Vincent, Milford; as well as the former Scranton Central Catholic High School and the former Bishop O’Reilly High School in Kingston.
The suit says the Diocese is responsible for years of the plaintiff’s mental health issues, including “severe mental anguish and trauma, necessitating psychiatric and medical care and treatment in the past, present and/or future.”
When reached for comment, a diocesan spokesperson indicated that the diocese had not yet received a copy of the suit and that it does not comment on pending litigation.