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Papers: Priest possessed troubling items

Findings should have caused full diocese investigation of Liberatore, papers say.

Liberatore

SCRANTON – A priest who admitted molesting an altar boy allegedly kept a number of “alarming” items in his room, including a GI Joe doll in a state of arousal, according to court documents.

The X-rated doll, which was allegedly discovered in the Rev. Albert Liberatore’s room at the Sacred Heart of Jesus rectory in Duryea, was among a number of troubling findings that prompted three parish employees to report suspicions regarding the priest’s involvement with the boy to the Diocese of Scranton in 1999.

But the diocese failed to fully investigate the allegations, allowing Liberatore to continue to molest the boy for years, Daniel Brier, attorney for the victim, says in civil court papers.

The failure to act was indicative of the “years of indefensible misjudgments” and “stunning callousness” the diocese showed in its handling of multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior that were lodged against Liberatore dating back to 1996, Brier says.

The now 22-year-old victim, identified as John Doe, filed a federal lawsuit against Liberatore, former Bishop James Timlin and several other church officials in 2004, alleging the church’s inaction allowed Liberatore to molest him from age 14 to 17.

The abuse continued until 2002, when the boy reported it to his mother. A criminal investigation resulted. Liberatore pleaded guilty in Luzerne County Court in 2005 to fondling the boy and was sentenced to five years probation.

In a 74-page legal brief, Brier details how several people warned Timlin they suspected Liberatore had a sexual relationship with the boy. But Timlin never questioned the boy or interviewed staff members who made the allegations. Instead he blindly accepted Liberatore’s assurances that nothing inappropriate was going on, Brier says.

The court papers, filed Friday, are in response to a motion filed last month by the diocese that asks a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

In its petition, Joseph O’Brien, attorney for the diocese, acknowledged a number of people raised concerns about Liberatore’s behavior toward the youth, but none of the people said they suspected sexual impropriety. Based on that, the victim has failed to present sufficient evidence to take the case to trial, O’Brien said.

But Brier says multiple witnesses in the case who have been questioned in pre-trial depositions say they clearly indicated they suspected Liberatore was sexually abusing the boy.

The three Sacred Heart employees came forward with their concerns after noticing Liberatore was spending an inordinate amount of time with the boy. At least one employee noted Liberatore would look at the boy “in a way that suggested that he might be in love with” the victim, Brier says.

The employees’ concern was heightened after one of them found the pornographic GI Joe doll in Liberatore’s room. Another employee also reported finding photos of men in briefs in Liberatore’s pajama pockets.

The employees reported their concerns to Monsignor John Bendik, who agreed they represented a troubling pattern. Bendik then wrote a letter advising the Rev. Joseph Kopacz, who was in charge of investigating abuse allegations, of Liberatore’s relationship with the boy. The letter warned “something had better be done for the sake of that young person.”

Kopacz dismissed the complaint as unfounded after speaking with Liberatore, who assured him nothing inappropriate was going on. However, Kopacz never spoke to the boy or advised his parents of the allegations, Brier says.

“The Diocese’s inaction in the face of these serious concerns is outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency and can only be regarded as abhorrent and atrocious in a civilized community,” Brier wrote.

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