Lawsuit Targets Priest in 1969
The Ex-Area Resident Claims Scranton Diocese Aided Abuse by Now-Deceased Clergy
By Mark Guydish
Wilkes Barre Times Leader (Pennsylvania)
December 14, 2005
SCRANTON The accused priest was convicted more than a decade ago and is dead. The Diocese of Scranton has had three bishops since the alleged sex abuse occurred. The statute of limitations has expired. The victim moved to Kentucky.
None of which stopped David Irvin, now in his 40s, from filing a federal lawsuit Tuesday contending he was abused at age 6 by the Rev. Robert Caparelli, and that the diocese caused it through a deliberate pattern of "fraudulent representations, concealing criminal activity, obstructing justice" and "evading" liability.
"Mr. Irvin wants to know how this could happen in his church," attorney Joseph Saunders said during a press conference held Tuesday morning on the steps of the federal courthouse.
The 31-page suit claims Caparelli repeatedly abused Irvin for several years when he lived in Lakeville and attended St. Mary's Church. The alleged abuse started in 1969. Caparelli was convicted on multiple counts of sexual abuse of minors in the early 1990s. He died in prison in 1994.
J. Carroll McCormick was bishop at the time of the abuse. Since then the diocese has been run by John J. O'Connor, James Timlin, and now Joseph Martino. While the suit names Martino as defendant, Saunders, of Florida, said that is a legal technicality because Martino is a "corporation sole," or the head, of the diocese.
The real culprit, he said, is the diocese and the Catholic Church in general, both of which maintained a policy of secrecy when priest sex abuse was discovered, routinely transferring the priest to other parishes where they repeated the crime. As part of the suit, Saunders included a lengthy exhibit that he said was canon, or church, law at the time of the abuse. One part notes such cases must "be pursued in a most secretive way under the penalty of excommunication."
Saunders said the statute of limitations, which typically restricts legal action after a set number of years depending on the crime, does not apply because Irvin was in the Navy for 20 years and thus falls under what used to be called the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act. He said the law allows members of the military to delay such action because it could impact their service or potential for promotion.
The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Saunders said it belongs in federal court because Irvin now lives in Kentucky.
According to the lawsuit:
In 1969, Caparelli's parents lived three houses away from Irvin's home in Lakeville, and Caparelli "lured" Irvin there where he "sexually fondled, molested and battered David on an ongoing basis." Caparelli then intimidated the boy into keeping the visits secret.
In 1968, before the abuse started, a former Hazleton police officer had written a letter to McCormick saying Caparelli had "demoralized two altar boys in a manner that is not natural." The officer was a parishioner of Most Precious Blood in Hazleton, where Caparelli had been assigned.
Timlin, then a monsignor serving as assistant chancellor for the diocese, investigated. A psychiatric evaluation and a psychological report warned that, if Caparelli had molested the boys, he had a serious problem and would likely repeat such action again. Despite the warnings, "Caparelli received no further treatment and the diocese simply reassigned him."
More complaints came, including one from a retired Pennsylvania state trooper, who said Caparelli had admitted groping young boys. Yet for more than 20 years, "Caparelli was transferred from parish to parish within the diocese," until he was finally convicted and sent to jail.
The suit claims that the handling of Caparelli echoed a pattern throughout the Catholic Church, one that was endorsed by the hierarchy. It cites a 1962 "instruction" from the Vatican that "makes clear throughout that in all circumstances sex abuse cases dealing with minor children or brute animals are to be kept strictly secret."
The suit says priests were told that transferring offenders was an appropriate way of dealing with the problem and that documents related to such cases were to be kept in "secret archives."
The suit also cites a 1982 "report" received by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that noted growing problems with priest abuse of children and said the Church "could face liability in excess of $1 billion over the next 10 years."
The suit claims the National Conference of Bishops ignored the report's recommendations to "resist the practice by some to sanitize or purge" secret files, including the practice of moving files to the "Papal Apostolic Delegate," roughly equivalent to an international ambassador in the U.S. for the pope, where the documents would theoretically have immunity to court subpoenas.
While the suit does not ask for any specific amount, it does say that damages exceed $75,000. Saunders said "Mr. Irvin wants a jury to decide what is fair."
In an e-mail response to a request for comment, spokesman Bill Genello said the diocese had not seen the lawsuit yet and "we do not comment on any matters involving litigation."
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