Chesco D.A. Eyes Priest at Malvern Probing Abuse Claim by Former Student

By Ron Goldwyn
Philadelphia Daily News
January 14, 2003

A priest has been forced from the Malvern Preparatory School faculty as the Chester County district attorney's office investigates allegations he sexually abused a student about five years ago.

The priest, whom the Daily News has learned is the Rev. John R. Liggio, has denied "serious allegations of improper conduct" and has not been charged, the school announced yesterday.

The allegations, reported to the D.A.'s office over the holidays, come to light as a former Malvern priest, the Rev. Richard J. Cochrane, awaits sentencing for sexually abusing a teen-age boy in the Poconos in 1991 in an unrelated case.

Chester County D.A. Joseph W. Carroll said yesterday a 20-year-old ex-student contacted Malvern, which turned the case over to his office within the past several weeks. Sources at Malvern said Liggio, who taught theology, disappeared from the sprawling 103-acre campus without explanation just before Christmas break.

The D.A.'s office is investigating "certain allegations of sexual misconduct [that] go back to 1997 and early 1998," Carroll said.

He did not identify the student or provide specifics about the allegations against Liggio. His office has interviewed the student.

Unlike other priest sexual-abuse charges in the Philadelphia area that date to the 1970s and '80s, the statute of limitations has not expired. So felony charges remain possible.

The priest is a member of the Augustinian order, which has regional headquarters in Villanova and founded Malvern. Tuition at the private prep school, with about 600 students from sixth to 12th grades, is more than $15,000.

As Augustinian numbers have diminished, its Malvern presence had been scaled back to five priests on a staff of 125.

They live at the campus off Warren Road near Paoli Pike, guarded only by a statue of St. Augustine the Teacher.

Liggio has been forced from his residence at the school and is under evaluation for treatment at an undisclosed area location, according to the Very Rev. Donald Reilly, East Coast provincial for the Augustinian order.

"He's in his 50s, a wonderful person, a good teacher and well-respected," Reilly said. "This is a shock."

"It's another situation with which many people, including the person who brought the allegation, have to suffer with," he said. "It's very sad and also very serious."

Reilly said Liggio "maintains his innocence" and has not been the target of any other allegations. He said the priest, a New York state native, taught at Malvern from the mid-1990s.

Head of School James H. Stewart did not identify Liggio by name but stated the priest "was asked to take a leave of absence." He said Malvern's "primary concern is for the welfare of our former student."

Stewart, who declined to be interviewed or to allow others at Malvern to speak to the news media, stated: "Malvern takes seriously its commitment and obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of our students. We are doing our best to address the allegations."

As an order priest teaching at a private Catholic school, Liggio was not under the authority of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

Reilly said that under Augustinian policy, Liggio has been relieved of all ministerial duties.

Cochrane, also an Augustinian, pleaded no contest Tuesday to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student in a Poconos cabin during a weekend trip in 1991.

The student came forward with his charge in 1998.



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